Booktalk: Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwar Wolff

Audio Version:

Title: Make Lemonade

Author: Virginia Euwer Wolff
Publication Information: New York – Henry Holt & Company, 1993
Age group: Ages 10 and up according to publisher, but I would recommend this for middle-schoolers and up
Topics: teen pregnancy, teenage mothers, single parent famillies, inner city poverty

Notes: Novel in verse form might appeal to reluctant readers; stream-of-consciousness style also makes text easy to read.  On several Best Books lists (YALSA, Kirkus, ALA, etc.) and winner of the Golden Kite Award, 1994.

Summary: Fourteen-year-old LaVaughn’s goal is to be the first person in her 64-apartment building to go to college.  She sets out to save for college and applies for a job babysitting for Jolly, a seventeen-year-old high school dropout with two kids by two different fathers.  When she sees the broken-down building (even worse than her own) and the disorderly and stinky apartment, LaVaughn is unsure how much she can help.  She takes the job anyway, and the two girls work alongside each other to reach their separate goals and build their own futures.

Booktalk (print version):

What do you do when life gives you lemons?  Make lemonade…right?  But what if your life is so bad you don’t even get lemons…in fact, what if you are handed only a few lemon seeds, and no matter how much you water them, talk to them, and give them sunlight, nothing grows?

Jolly’s life is bad like that.  In fact, she lives in a broken-down, smelly apartment, crawling with roaches and covered in grime and dirt, rotting banana goo and dried up creamed spinach.  She is sexually harassed at work and gets fired for it, so now she doesn’t even have money for the basics, like heat, electricity, food, and toilet paper.  Oh, and get this — Jolly’s only 17 and has two babies by two different fathers, both gone, and no, she can’t afford any diapers either.

This is how she describes her life (read from pages 107-108):

You know how the astronaut up there in space

he might have to go outside the rocket he’s in?

Like to make repairs or something?

Like they radio him up there

from down in Florida, they say he’s gotta go outside

and fix something?

Well, he’s hooked by his cord,

Like a big belly-button cord.


Well, spose the hatch closes while he’s out there.

By an accident.

It cuts his cord.  Slices it right off.  He floats away.

See?  He floats out there.  Just out there.  You know?

Just out there, on and on.

See, even if they wanted to send somebody after him, they wouldn’t know

where to look.

He ain’t connected.  See?

Sounds pretty desperate, doesn’t it?  And it is, until Jolly meets LaVaughn, a fourteen-year-old girl who dreams of being the first person in her whole 64-apartment building to go to college.  She answers Jolly’s babysitting ad so she can save up for school, but what do you think she does when she shows up and meets Jolly and her sticky, screaming kids?  Will Jolly’s mess derail LaVaughn from her plans for the future?  Or will the two of them somehow get those lemon seeds to sprout?   You’ll have to pick up this book — Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff — and find out for yourself.

Personal Comments: Make Lemonade is the first book of a trilogy, followed by award-winning True Believer (2001) and This Full House (2009).  Readers who enjoyed the first will want to read the rest of the trilogy to see what happens to LaVaughn.  Another book about teen mothers and poverty — Janet McDonald’s Coretta Scott King Award for New Talent winner Chill Wind (2002) — tells the story of 19-year-old Aisha, a high school dropout with two kids, find her way to support her family in New York City.  McDonald also wrote Spellbound (2001), which tells the story Raven, a teen mother living in the housing project, studying for a spelling bee that could lead to a four-year college scholarship.


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