Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
The blank verse form of this novel brings lyrical beauty to the story of two inner-city teen girls—fourteen-year-old LaVaughn and seventeen-year-old Jolly. Though LaVaughn lives in ‘the projects,’ she has a strong widowed mother looking out for her, one who insists that college is a must. LaVaughn is focused on her future and works hard at school to make the grade. On the other hand, Jolly is a lost and desperate mother of two. Functionally illiterate, Jolly works in a factory until she is fired after she refuses sexual advances from her boss. She has no life skills and this includes her ability to parent—her apartment is filthy with odd bits of smelly old food left about, meals for the roaches. She runs out of diapers and clean clothes and LaVaughn describes her as doing everything ‘half-way.’
We learn that Jolly’s inability to deal with every day life, to “take hold” as LaVaughn’s mother keeps saying, is rooted in her lack of family support. The only parent she’s ever known is an elderly foster mom, ‘Gram,’ who died shortly after Jolly comes to live with her. LaVaughn has taken a job babysitting Jolly’s two kids while Jolly works, hoping to save money for college. But when Jolly, loses her job, LaVaughn babysits for free—that is until she realizes that she is only providing a sort of welfare for Jolly and not helping her ‘take hold.’ It is only when Jolly decides to go back to school—and includes parenting classes—that she has any hope of taking the lemons that life has given her and making lemonade.
If you have any doubt that high school matters—that working hard on becoming educated matters—reading this book is a MUST!