Book review

True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff (2001)

Have you read Make Lemonade? Here's more about Verna La Vaughn. She's a year older now. Still struggling for good grades at school. Still working all hours to put money into her College Account. Still determined to escape the poverty that she is growing up in.

It's hard though. Her mom knows how it is:

'I seen many youngsters change their minds,
forgetting their life plan
or they pretend they never had one.
You need a long memory, La Vaughn.
You can't go forgetting the minute it gets too hard,'

And La Vaughn doesn't forget, but sometimes, if you keep your eyes fixed too firmly on the horizon, you can easily slip on a banana skin right in front of you.

What happens? Oh well, there's this boy next door ...

I decorate my notebook covers with 'Jody Jody Jody'
in fancy writing, full of loops and curves and wavy lines.
Jody, there is a dance and we could go to it together.

Jody's really friendly. They go to the swimming pool. They go to the school dance. He calls her 'Buddy'. But it doesn't seem to make any difference how many love hearts La Vaughn posts through the vents of Jody's locker, he just doesn't take it any further. Why is that? What's wrong with La Vaughn? Or what's wrong with Jody? It's enough to put a girl off her Biology quiz.

Not only that. Her best friends, Annie and Myrtle, are growing in a different direction. They've joined the Jesus Club:

And Cross Your Legs For Jesus seems like a good idea at first.
But it doesn't feel right
when I think about it.

La Vaughn does very well at school and moves up into a tougher biology class. That's where she meets Patrick. And there is the voluntary after-school Grammar Build-Up tutorial. She's in a study group of four there. They call themselves the Brain Cells. It's hard work, but they're all serious about doing well. So there are some more new friends for La Vaughn - Ronnell, Doc and Doug.

Perhaps it is La Vaughn who is growing away in a different direction?

'You're too big for your britches, La Vaughn.'
It hit a part of me I had not thought to protect.
'You have your fancy classes now,
that bigtime Biology book.'
I start to move my mouth -
'You got your over-smart friends,
your tutorial. You're getting groomed.

Let La Vaughn tell you how she feels about that, in her own straightforward way. This is an emotional story. Highly recommended.

What can I read next?

True Believer is the second book about Verna La Vaughn. Read them in order:

Rosa Guy has written a trilogy on similar lines which you might also enjoy:

If it is the American background to the story which interests you, perhaps you might enjoy this one by Suzanne Fisher Staples:

A very English background, but similar teenage sensitivities, try this one by Gaye Hicyilmaz:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

True Believer features in these lists: