Book Talk #3: Life, Lemons, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Posted: April 12, 2013 in On Novels
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

“When life gives you lemons, chunk it right back.” ― Bill Watterson

I’m going to get this out of the way first and foremost: I neither loved nor hated Virginia Euwer Wolff’s “Make Lemonade”. For me, it had its touching moments, but on the whole, I wasn’t super impressed, nor did I walk away bleary-eyed. There were times when I was genuinely enthralled, and others where I felt my hands turning the page simply so I would have the necessary fuel for this blog post. Usually, a book I love (or hate) creates very polarizing feelings in me. This book left me with an “eh” and shrugged shoulders.

https://i1.wp.com/images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110803231729/disney/images/a/a3/Lemonade1.jpg

I know what we’re going to do today!

So, what’s happening?

For the uninitiated (that is, anyone reading this not in my adolescent lit class), Make Lemonade entails the story of 14 year old Verna LaVaughn, who takes a job babysitting 17 year old Jolly’s two (fatherless) children. Jolly is barely managing to hold the shambles of her life together, scrambling to be able to pay for rent, bills, and the things that young Jeremy (3) and Jilly (no older than 2) need. Verna takes the job, despite the fact that it could possibly begin cutting into her study time. Verna fears nothing more than the possibility of not going to college and ending up like Jolly, and her mother finds no shortage of ways to make it known that she is skeptical at best about Verna’s decision. Oh, and for any of you wondering where “Make Lemonade” comes from as a title, 3 times over Verna plants some lemon seeds for Jeremy, the first two times yield no results. This, and also an anecdote from Jolly about an old blind woman trying to buy an orange for her children being knocked down by some thugs who replace the orange with a lemon (guess what she does with this lemon?). It’s all very symbollic, the whole “life gives you lemons” schtick, yadda-yadda-yadda, overcoming adversity time!

https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRuWL9uL5PUniSkld1Vm45KFDP6VV2sCBqASZKq-h9v1jxADvUFKg

You don’t seem thrilled with this. Why not?

For one thing, I, on general principle, am not fond of kids. And by “I’m not fond of kids” I mean I seriously want to tear my ears off whenever children are in the vicinity. I know some of my fellow adolescent-lit-bloggers are parents, and I apologize if this opinion is for some reason offensive, but sweet jesus kids bug the crap out of me. I know they don’t know any better, but (like Verna mentions, having to stop herself from acting like I would) when a kid is being a whirlwind of destruction, that shit is not cool. You want to be angry, but can’t because they don’t know better, so you’ve got nowhere to put your irritation, and then someone will inevitably say “WELL YOU WERE A KID ONCE TOO” (no shit, lady), and it all just devolves into a big mess.

Reason #2 is there were multiple moments in this novel where I wanted to dropkick either Jolly or Verna’s mother. Hypocrisy seemed to be the word of the day for these people. Here are my brief impressions:

Jolly: “WAH HELP ME I NEED HELP I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE – OMG YOU’RE STEALING MY CHILDRENS FROM ME I DON’T NEED ANYONE I CAN DO IT MYSELF”

Verna’s Mother: “DO WHATEVER IT TAKES YOU NEED MONEY FOR COLLEGE – HOW COULD YOU TAKE THIS JOB THAT PAYS MONEY YOU BETTER NOT START SLIPPING IN SCHOOL BECAUSE SCHOOL MEANS COLLEGE”

http://itsjustmehillary.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/overworked-mom.jpg

Above: somewhat related

Rinse and repeat this for about the entirety of the novel. And it drives me nuts. Verna’s mother offers hollow, lifeless praises to her daughter when things go right, but spends most of her time rolling her eyes, saying snappy things under her breath, and peeling potatoes. So, maybe the woman lost a husband to a freak accident. That would explain the cold exterior, and she does mean well when it comes to Verna. She just wants to see her succeed, but she’s pretty much the cliche “overworked mom” from most teen novels, shows, etc. etc. Jolly on the other hand whines and complains about needing help and about how everyone looks down on her, everyone tells her that she deserves her place because she should have “known better” – and then promptly refuses Welfare (yet accepts food stamps) and instead writes a letter to a billionaire to get him to pay her rent. Fucking genius. Plus, I just hate the names “Jolly” and “Jilly”. In the sequel, a love interest for Verna named “Jody” shows up.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/0/0d/TeenMomcard.jpg/250px-TeenMomcard.jpg

Jolly is supposedly in talks with MTV (this is a joke).

Wait.. so should we read this or not?

I’m gonna throw you guys for a loop here – I genuinely think you should read “Make Lemonade” for yourselves and form an opinion. If you enjoy it, there are two sequels. It has its redeeming moments, some of the moments between Jeremy and Verna are pretty touching (getting Jeremy new shoes, reading to him, etc.), and Jeremy as a whole serves well as a symbol of hope. Just because I didn’t on the whole like the novel doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a read. I’m sure I’m going to be the one person out of the 6+ billion on the earth that openly says I didn’t care for it much. The copyright date on the particular copy of the book I have is from 1993, the year I was born. By now, we’re desensitized to teenage pregnancy. The shit is on television and practically celebrated by our (mindless) culture, but I’m wondering if in 1993 it was a different story. I’m wondering if I would have a different disposition towards this novel had I been born prior to 93. Either way, I want to know what others think, whether they like what I’ve had to say or not.

veni quid veniat

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Comments
  1. I’ll be honest, I read this post because of your Phinneas and Ferb picture. Back to ya lit, you always seem to articulate my subconcious thoughts towards our required reading. Make Lemonade was definitely an “eh” book for me.

    I am glad you pointed out the hypocrisy of LaVaughn’s Mom and Jolly. I didn’t realize it until now, but now I’m mad, too! I also did not realize it was written in ’93. Perhaps you are right and if we weren’t in the womb at that time we might have an entirely different opinion of it.

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