Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

In Chicago in 1994, a fourteen-year-old girl was accidentally killed during a gang shooting.  The killer turned out to be a boy who was only eleven years old, Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, who got his nickname because of his immense love of candy.  The incident was covered nationally in the media - everyone was shocked and saddened that such violence could be perpetrated by a child.  In this biography, the events are examined by a fictional narrator, an eleven-year-old boy named Roger who is a classmate of Yummy's and lives in the neighborhood where the incident took place.

Roger is upset and baffled by what has happened, and the more he learns about Yummy, the more confused he is.  How can he reconcile the boy who loved candy and his teddy-bear with the boy who proudly carried out acts of violence to impress members of the gang he wanted to join?  We learn about Yummy's lack of a family, and that while his grandmother loved him, she had so many other children to take care of that she couldn't spend much time with him.  Was Yummy looking for attention from the gang?  A family or place to belong?  Was he a cold-blooded killer?  Or did he just make a series of bad decisions?

There are no easy answers here, but there is certainly food for thought.  The gritty illustrations are an excellent complement to the story, with their stark black and white imagery.  This is not an easy book to read, but it is one that will appeal to many teens and does not pull any punches.  It takes an honest look at a difficult topic, and it raises questions that are worth thinking about for any teenager - or adult, for that matter.  

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty  by Greg Neri; illustrated by Randy DuBurke (Lee & Low Books, 2010)

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