Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

Eleven-year-old Roger lives in a dangerous Chicago neighborhood where gangs rule the streets and violence permeates daily life. He has had a good upbringing, and comes from a close-knit family, but he knows that other kids aren’t so lucky. One of his classmates, a boy called “Yummy” after his love of sweets, is one such kid: with no real family to call his own, Yummy looks to impress the older boys who make up a local gang. Yummy has a tough exterior, and a criminal record, but he also loves his teddy bear. He bullies the other kids (including Roger) and steals their lunch money, but at times he’s just like any other young boy, playing with frogs and having sleepovers.

When Yummy commits an awful crime—the accidental shooting of a bright, sweet fourteen-year-old girl—Roger tries to piece together what led the boy down such a dark path. He thinks of Yummy’s mother, a drug addict and prostitute, who has been in and out of jail herself, and of Yummy’s grandmother, who cares for the boy, but has plenty of other grandchildren to worry about. He tries to understand if Yummy is at heart a good kid or a bad one; ultimately, he finds that Yummy, like anyone, has both good and bad in him.

The tragic end to the story is no surprise to anyone familiar with the real-life events that inspired it. Yummy, in a panic, goes on the run; he is wanted by both the police and the gang he had hoped to impress. Eventually, of course, he is found, and his last days come to their inevitable, but no less shocking, conclusion. Yummy, like the life of the boy it is based on, is brief but powerful; it is a beautifully-illustrated graphic novel that lingers in the mind. Sophisticated and sensitively written, it offers no easy answers, but plenty of thought-provoking questions.

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