Wolff, Virginia Euwer.
1993. Make Lemonade. New York: Henry
Holt and Company Inc. ISBN: 0805022287.
LaVaughn, a fourteen-year-old student, is trying
to do something with her life and get into college, but college requires money. With
an okay from her persistent mother, who wants to make sure that LaVaughn knows that school work must come first, she takes
a babysitting job. She baby-sits for a seventeen-year-old unwed mother, Jolly
who has two children: Jeremy who is almost 3, and Jilly, who is still an infant. Through babysitting LaVaughn and
Jolly develop a friendship.
When Jolly loses her job, La Vaughn takes her
to “Steam Class” (self-esteem classes) with her and eventually convinces her to go back to school at the “Moms
Up” program at the same school. Throughout the story the reader follows
the life of Jolly, Jeremy (as he becomes potty-trained), Jilly and their ups and downs in life as witnessed by LaVaughn.
Wolff has used a very unique style in writing
Make Lemonade. The sixty-six chapter book is written in lyrical free verse “with
text lines that break at natural speaking phrases”. For me this line breakage
made the story a little confusing to start out with, but I adapted to it and enjoyed the story. The book is also divided into four parts, all told from first hand knowledge of LaVaughn herself using
language that is typical of a disadvantaged teenager. Each section of the book addresses the ups and downs in the characters lives.
Wolff does a wonderful job of setting this story
in an area that would be considered the ‘projects’. LaVaughn has to take several buses, which are the main source of transportation, in order to get to Jolly’s
apartment. What makes this story even more true to life is that Wolff has
include aspects of what people think about the project areas: filthiness and broken elevators. When LaVaughn arrives at Jolly’s apartment the first time she really can’t
believe what she sees “the plates were pasted together with noodles and these rooms smell like last week’s garbage/the
kitchen floor has the creamed spinach I spilled a month ago/stuck in the high-chairs corners are margarine and rotten banana
The best part of this story is the characters
that Wolff has created. Your heart breaks for Jolly when she comes home bleeding
and when she loses her job. You will want to pull for her to rise above what
life has dealt her: being a mother of two at the young age of seventeen with no high school diploma and unmarried. You will also get a chance to see the strong will in LaVaughn as she sees the life that Jolly lives and
strives to make sure that she is able to go to college and get away from the life of the projects. “That’s why
the word COLLEGE is in our house all the time, it’s why I babysit, it’s why I do all the homework all the time,
it’s what will get me out of here.” The babysitter helping
to raise two small children, teaching Jeremy how to go to the potty and giving Jilly a bath; while their mother tries to work
in order to provide for them.
Wolff has created an inspiring story teaching
us about friendship and determination that we all could learn a lesson from: when life deals you lemons it is possible to
make lemonade. We also need to remember what LaVaughn’s mother said, “Bootstraps
go in 2 directions/ either up or down/ You choose/ and remember you choose.” Very
important information for young adults to understand. Though there are rough
times you can get through them, but you always have a choice to make.