Sunday Salon – Review of “Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty” by G. Neri; Illustrated by Randy DuBurke

The Sunday Salon.com

This small book based on a horrifying true story packs a huge punch. I was devastated for days after reading it. It also has some of the most expressive drawings I’ve ever seen in a graphic novel. (Some of the picture examples I was able to find do not include all of the text that you would, however, be able to see in the actual book.)

In Chicago in 1994, eleven-year-old Robert “Yummy” Sandifer accidentally shot and killed a young neighborhood girl, Shavon Dean.

Sandifer was nicknamed Yummy because of his love of cookies and Snickers bars. When Shavon was killed, Yummy had actually been aiming his gun at rival gang members. He was trying to impress his own gang, the Black Disciples (BD).

The Disciples used “shorties” like Yummy for their dirty work since juveniles could not be convicted of felonies. But after the murder, it wasn’t only the police who were after Yummy. BD decided Yummy was high risk; if he got caught by the police, he might have told them too much. Two of the gang members found him and executed him.

The story is told by a fictional classmate of Yummy’s, eleven-year-old Roger, whose brother is also a BD. As Roger tries to understand what happened, we learn about Yummy’s background: how his father was in prison for drugs; his mother was arrested 41 times for drugs and prostitution; how Yummy was covered with scars from being beaten with an electrical cord and burned with cigarettes; how he carried a teddy bear with him; how desperately he wanted love and approval.

Discussion: The author asks us to consider whether Yummy a villain or a victim. His answer is both. I can’t say I agree that Yummy was a villain, in the sense of knowing or understanding what he was doing, or being responsible for actions he was manipulated into doing or fell into because of neglect and abuse. He was, after all, only eleven. But as for what could have been done to help him, or to prevent more cases like this one, neither the author nor the city of Chicago seems to have any answers. And neither do I.

Evaluation: I loved the drawings in this book. I think the illustrator caught so much emotion in the facial expressions…

And his pictures, at times, said conveyed more than words could have…

You won’t quickly forget this story. Highly recommended.

Note: The ALA awarded a Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor to G. Neri for Yummy. The book also appears on YALSA’s Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens lists, along with the ALA Notable Children’s Books list. It continues to accumulate awards.

Rating: 4/5

For more information on crime statistics among youth in Chicago, I suggest these sources:

The Chicago Reporter, August 13, 2007

Gun Violence Among Youth in Chicago, March, 2009

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Youth Violence

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20 Responses

  1. This story has haunted me since I first heard about it, and the graphic novel deals with the material beautifully.

  2. Wow! This looks incredible! And I agree that the drawings are spectacular, especially the facial expressions.

  3. So sad! Great graphics!

  4. Another great example of why graphic novels can tell a story like no other medium. I’m going to go on a total graphic novel binge at the library once the Dare is done. I’ll definitely grab this one if they have it. It looks disturbing as hell.

  5. I need to read this book! For some reason, I feel compelled to read about gangs and always wonder what draws young people to them.

  6. it’s amazing how graphic novels add so much. your review of yummy has me thinking about adding the genre of graphic novels to my lesson plans. my students, generally reluctant readers, might really enjoy this type of book. i’m not a huge fan and that might be the reason i never considered bringing these into the classroom before. your review and the illustrations included here have changed my thoughts on that. i’ll let you know how it goes…

  7. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention, Jill. It sounds like an incredibly sad story, and all the more so because it’s based in fact.

  8. Wow. Pretty powerful, huh? I still can’t read graphic novels. I have nothing against them, I just can’t seem to get into them.

  9. Wow. 11 years old? And he had a gun?! That’s so depressing to me. So many things about urban living are sad to me, and this story I think would have an even deeper meaning for me than so many others of this type because I have such a huge and immense pride in the city of Chicago. I don’t think anyone has answers on how to solve this problem, especially if you consider it as a HUGE problem to solve. It seems more like the sort of problem you have to tackle individually- and probably by the schools? I don’t know. Wow.

  10. Wow, this sounds quite powerful. I really like the illustrations though and the story sounds interesting – shooting at 11 years old? ‘Tis a tragic fact that things like this happen. People don’t really carry around guns here (they’re harder to get a hold of in the UK than in the US) but you see kids this young carrying around knives and committing crimes (especially in my hometown – not the safest of places). Sad.

  11. The drawing does seem very well done. And I’m sure it is the type of book that sticks with you for long afterward.

  12. I picked this one up from the library a few weeks ago and I think because I knew how powerful the story was going to be I decided to wait to read it at a later date. I just wasn’t ready to read it at the time, but I plan to pick it up again at some point in the future.

  13. Oh my. What a heart wrenching story, and the fact that Yummy is only 11 makes it all that much harder to deal with. I have read books that have emotionally devastated me and left my soul feeling like it was crumpled into a little ball. It sounds like this was such a book for you. Very poignant review. Thanks for sharing it.

  14. WOW. I had put this on a list to look for but never followed through… after reading your review here I am reserving it at my library now. Thanks Jill.

  15. Whew — don’t know if I could handle this one! I got goosebumps just reading your review. How horrifying.

  16. Do you think this is appropriate for teenagers to read? Although I know it looks like something I want to read, I’m thinking of my older son (HS freshman) — he has been asking a lot of question about racial/class divisions lately.

    • Valerie, it’s completely appropriate for teens. It’s not told in achildish manner, it just lets each picture “speak a thousand words” to enhance the powerful storyline. I reviewed this on my own blog last year, it was my first graphic novel and I was stunned by how much I enjoyed it – especially since I live in the Chicago area and I’m old enough to have a memory for many of the events.

      • Thank you, B.A. I went to my library site, and both “Yummy” and your book, “Pull” (brought to my attention by Jill’s recent review) , are on order by our library system. I’ve placed a hold on both books. I have no idea how long I’ll have to wait; hope it won’t be too long! I think both my son and I would have a lot to discuss over these two books.

  17. You’re right about those facial expressions. Intense. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention.

  18. I remember the day this happen
    . I just thank god for blessing me with the ability to get out of Chicago, however I love the city just not the crime

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