Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty is a haunting story, and unfortunately, not uncommon. G. Neri's graphic novel explores the life, death, and media hoopla that surrounded the final days of eleven-year-old Robert "Yummy" Sandifer. In 1994, he murdered a fourteen-year-old girl in order to appear tough for his gang, the Black Disciples. When the attention surrounding Yummy grew to be too much, his own gang pulled him out of hiding and executed him. Then they moved on to the next group of shorties who were willing to commit a crime and receive the light juvenile sentencing.

Yummy's life was a tragedy, full of abuse and neglect, which led to his delinquency. One of the lawyers in the book states, "Yummy averages a felony a month for the last year and a half. 23 felonies in all by the time he was 11. Now you got over 1000 Black Disciples like him, all younger than 13. All with guns. In this country, 15 kids under the age of 19 die by guns every day." This is a shocking set of statistics, and one that adolescents probably wouldn't pay attention to if it weren't couched in a graphic novel.

The book doesn't only focus on how sad Yummy's life was; his victim, Shavon Dean, receives a tribute as well. Her face pops up many times and serves to remind the reader than Yummy took an innocent life, adding to the complicated feelings that he inspires.

Illustrator Randy DuBurke takes Yummy's devastating mugshot and turns it into a cover that grabs the reader. Inside, his black and white artwork show the duality of Yummy: a cold killer behind a gun and a little boy clutching a teddy bear and eating candy. DuBurke's use of shadows on faces and in the streets as Yummy hides are particularly affecting.

Reluctant readers will be drawn to Yummy's story. Although it occurred almost twenty years ago, it feels recent and urgent. It's not an enjoyable plot, but an important one, and it belongs on your library's shelves.

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