Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy DuBurke

published by Lee & Low Books
96 pages

Publisher's description:
Eleven-year-old Roger is trying to make sense of his classmate Robert "Yummy" Sandifer's death, but first he has to make sense of Yummy's life. Yummy could be as tough as a pit bull sometimes. Other times he was as sweet as the sugary treats he loved to eat. Was Yummy some sort of monster, or just another kid?

As Roger searches for the truth, he finds more and more questions. How did Yummy end up in so much trouble? Did he really kill someone? And why do all the answers seem to lead back to a gang—the same gang Roger's older brother belongs to?

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty is a compelling dramatization based on events that occurred in Chicago in 1994. This gritty exploration of youth gang life will force readers to question their own understandings of good and bad, right and wrong.

My comments:

For a few days in the fall of 1994, 11-year old Robert "Yummy" Sandifer became infamous for shooting an innocent girl during an attempted gang murder and made the cover of Time magazine. This account of Yummy's short life succinctly illustrates the cycle of gang violence in poor neighborhoods, where kids are groomed to be both bullies and victims.

The events all take place in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago's South side. While Yummy's story is true, Roger has been invented to narrate it. So is this a work of fiction or nonfiction? I've seen it reviewed as both, and it is cataloged as nonfiction at my library and a few others. Other libraries have it cataloged as fiction or included in mixed graphic novel collections.

Either way, it's a gripping read and one of the best graphic novels I've seen all year. The black and white artwork by DuBurke digs beneath cliche Chicago images like the Sears Tower, Michael Jordan and Al Capone, presenting the people and events in stark clarity. This is a neighborhood of nondescript brick boxes and ramshackle frame houses. The infamous cover of Time is worked into one sequence, and Yummy's mugshot serves as inspiration for the cover. His small stature is perhaps the most surprising element of the art.

In an author's note at the end, Neri (then a teacher in South Central LA) recalls where he was when Yummy's story first broke, and how he followed it day by day. "Yummy was both a bully and a victim--he deserves our anger and our understanding," he concludes. A list of author's sources includes a blend of news articles from the time as well as more recent critical analysis.

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