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.
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