Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Such is the common aphorism that lends itself to the title of this novel told in blank verse. Our narrator, 14-year old LaVaughn, thinks she has some lemons in her life: she lives with just her mom in a not-so-great neighborhood. She has dreams of college, but she would not only be the first in her family to go, but the first in her entire 64-apartment building. Her mom has told her the work it will take. More than that, it takes money, too. So LaVaughn looks for a job.

She finds one, and it’s a wake-up call to what real lemons are. LaVaughn becomes the babysitter for 17-year old Jolly’s 2 children. Their apartment seems to be a place not fit to raising two children: stains and spills abound, and there’s a sticky coating to everything. LaVaughn’s mother does not approve, but she’s hesitant to tell her daughter to leave the job. She seems to know the true importance of it. Read this wonderfully-written book to see how LaVaughn and Jolly learn from each other, and how they each learn to make lemonade.

I am very impressed with this book. The story is powerful, if not a bit predictable. The poetry used to tell the story, though, is fantastic. It is blank verse, but don’t let that fool you into thinking poetic devices aren’t used. Metaphors, allusions, and repetition abound. Rhyming is avoided, but slant rhyme is inserted delicately, like someone placing a seed into the flesh of a lemon. The verse is great, and it definitely enhances the reader’s experience of this story.

I recommend this book for 8th graders and up, especially high schoolers. I think it’s a story that we all should hear, and the poetry really adds another nice angle to it. However, there are some thematic issues with Jolly’s pregnancies, particularly how they happened, that may not be appropriate for our younger readers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 fish. 

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