LaVaughn is only 14, but she knows more than anything else in her life that she’s going to go to college.  Her mother has said so, and when her mother speaks a thing, it becomes true.  College isn’t going to pay for itself, though, so LaVaughn gets a job babysitting Jeremy and Jilly, the two children of Jolly.  Jolly is seventeen and works in a factory.  As LaVaughn forms a relationship with the family and begins to see the way Jolly’s life has spiraled out of her control, she begins to question herself.  Is it wrong for LaVaughn to take money from Jolly to avoid ending up in the same situation?  If LaVaughn babysits for free, is she sacrificing her future?  Is she allowing Jolly to keep spinning her wheels without making any forward progress in life?  Should LaVaughn feel responsible for Jolly’s situation?

Virginia Euwer Wolff achieves a great deal in Make Lemonade.  She paints a picture of two families in poverty going in drastically different directions; LaVaughn is poor but has a plan for life and a mother who supports her.  Jolly has no one but her children, and lives from one day to the next.  Wolff creates in Jolly a character who is sympathetic and frustrating at the same time.  She shows the tension between LaVaughn’s responsibility to herself and her desire to help others. 

Amidst all this, Wolff uses language that is both artful and accessible.  Written in verse, Make Lemonade feels like poetry but is not at all stilted.  Each line flows into the next, but it’s clear that each line break is carefully chosen.  Make Lemonade would be an excellent introduction to the verse novel for those who may be wary of the genre.

I would recommend Make Lemonade to readers who enjoy verse novels, as well as anyone looking for a story that is uplifting without being saccharine.
Book: Make Lemonade (Affiliate Link)
Author: Virginia Euwer Wolff
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Original Publication Date: 1993
Pages: 208
Age Range: Young Adult
Source of Book: Library