Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review #21: Chi-town Tragedy

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

Writer: G. Neri

Artist: Randy Duburke

Published: Lee & Low Books, 2010

This was a sobering read. It's based on the true story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, an 11-year-old who shot and killed a 14-year-old girl in 1994.

His parents were in and out of jail for various drug-related crimes, so Yummy was raised by his grandmother in Chicago. Following a similar path as his parents, he was in and out of juvie for breaking and entering and grand theft auto. He eventually fell in with a gang called the Black Disciples. They had him doing all sorts of stuff for them, because he was too young to be convicted of a felony.

One day, Yummy was looking to score some points with the higher-ups in the Black Disciples by offing some rival gang members. He opened fire on some guys playing basketball on a crowded street, but he accidentally hits Shavon Dean, a young aspiring hairdresser.

The Black Disciples help Yummy go into hiding, while media coverage explodes over the shooting and the entire country is in an uproar. The story is featured on the cover of the September 1994 issue of Time. The Black Disciples had planned on hiding Yummy until things “cooled down”, but that didn't really seem to be happening. In the eyes of the gang, Yummy became more of a problem than he was worth. They decided to solve this problem by having him murdered. The book ends with Yummy's funeral and the aftermath.

The narrator is a fictional 11-year-old boy, Roger, who lives in the same neighbourhood as Yummy. He provides us with an innocent, unbiased POV as the story unfolds. We see Yummy as a regular [albeit messed up] kid, before he got involved with the wrong people and things spiraled out of control. The story doesn’t delve too deeply into how society produced an 11-year-old murderer. A few pages of talking heads give a variety of theories on what went wrong and why and when and how. But to get into that would betray the narrator's limited understanding of the world. The childlike approach to this mature subject matter allows us to forget statistics and politicians and experts and instead focus on the simple, terrible fact that somehow, one child killed another child.

Roger has a fictional older brother, Gary, who is a member of the Disciples. Throughout the comic, he defends his gang and their actions, causing friction with his parents. It isn't until after the funeral that Gary breaks down and shows some regret over what happened. It's too late for Yummy, but it shows some hope for the future.

The artwork is good, but the quality fluctuates at times, some drawings seeming more “sketch-book” material. I liked the pacing, with the build-up to Yummy's murder being particularly effective. Dark, hollow eyes and wordless panels... chilling.

As a teacher in South Central L.A., Neri had a first hand look at the circumstances that lead kids to lives of crime and prison and death. In his afterword, Neri states that as “both a bully and a victim– [Yummy] deserves both our anger and our understanding.” I think the book achieves that duality.

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