“When life gives you lemons . . .” is never quoted in this contemporary realistic novel, but MAKE LEMONADE
is filled with many of life’s unfortunate occurrences.
LaVaughn is a fourteen year old girl who is determined to be the first in her family to go to college. She comes from
a poor family, however (it’s only her and her mother); and she knows that she must earn the money herself as well as
keep her grades up. She answers an ad and becomes a babysitter for Jolly’s two children, 2-year-old Jeremy and baby
Jilly. Jolly is a seventeen-year-old unwed mother who is almost illiterate and has very little hope for the future.
Wolff tells this story from the first-person perspective of LaVaughn. She struggles with juggling her schoolwork and
her babysitting job as her affection for the children, as well as her frustration with Jolly, grows. The book is written in
a conversational tone, as though LaVaughn is simply telling the story. The lessons she learns and the choices she makes are
hard ones. But the reader soon discovers that this is a very mature fourteen-year-old girl.
Even though many readers will be unfamiliar with this slice of life, the characters, setting, and plot seem very real
and true-to-life. This is a story that certainly could happen. We rejoice in Jeremy’s
success with potty-training, are frustrated with Jolly’s unwillingness to accept available help for her situation, and
surely hope that LaVaughn isn’t short-sighted enough to give Jolly her hard-earned money.
Eventually, Jolly does go back to earn her high school diploma, leaving her children in the daycare that’s provided.
The reader is led to believe that LaVaughn will earn enough money to realize her dream of college.
This is a hard story to read; but it’s a story of enduring hope that if you follow your dream, get your hands
dirty with hard work, and try to do what’s right, things can turn out all right in the end.
Wolff, Virginia Euwer. 1993. MAKE LEMONADE. New York: Scholastic. ISBN: 059048141X.