by Virginia Euwer Wolff
If Virginia Euwer Wolff was not the first to pen a free-verse novel for teens, she was certainly one of the early pioneers. Now it’s a favorite form for many authors of teen fiction, and this one is compulsively readable, with line breaks where one would naturally pause to take a breath. Virginia Euwer Wolff creates two fully formed characters, 14-year-old narrator LaVaughn, and the young mother for whom she baby-sits, 17-year-old Jolly. When as a fifth-grader LaVaughn asked her mother, who keeps herself very busy on the Tenant Council for their Public Housing project, “Can I go to college when I’m big?” LaVaughn’s mother replied, “Nobody in this building/… / ever went to college, nobody in my family,/ …/ somebody got to be the first, right?” Jeremy is 2, and Jilly is a “gooey baby,” and LaVaughn takes care of them while Jolly works her nighttime factory job. LaVaughn is saving up that baby-sitting money for college—until Jolly loses her job, and LaVaughn has a decision to make. We watch as LaVaughn’s mother’s belief in her daughter’s dream strengthens LaVaughn, and allows LaVaughn to dream big for Jolly, too. This gritty story pulls no punches; life is hard for both young women. But they love these kids and they respect themselves. This book was a sleeper that took hold quietly and powerfully, but with the second book about LaVaughn, True Believer, Wolff won the National Book Award and a Printz Honor book. The third book in the trilogy was published in February 2009, This Full House.