Yummy looks at you from the cover of this book and you can't help but stare back. His glare is impenetrable, challenging, blank, hostile. The coldest stare you've ever seen.
Yummy's eleven, and he was a real person, and that cover picture is a faithful reproduction of his mug shot, the only known photo of him. It's almost impossible, meeting that gaze, not to want to break it, not to want to find something that is not hard, not injured, behind those eyes. No eleven-year-old should seriously look like that. He ought to be playing, with that look.
Greg Neri writes Yummy's story. It's a short one. Tragically short. Heck, "tragic" doesn't even begin to cover it. Yummy was born to an abusive mother and a criminal father in a rough neighborhood. He was a thief and a truant even before he fell in with the kind of gangsters who used little kids to commit felonies so that they themselves were protected from jail time. Trying to impress the gang leader, he shot a teenage girl. On the run, the gang hid him from the cops, until they decided he was too much trouble, and killed him.
At the time, Robert Sandifer's case became quite well-known. The author, in his note, reveals that he followed the story closely, but fifteen years on, still does not know whether to call Yummy a victim or a villain.
For this book, he created a character, a schoolmate of Yummy's, who is similarly confused. Roger listens to his parents, his big brother, who is a gang member, and his teachers. He absorbs the opinions of neighborhood folks who know Yummy,:"You really can't describe how bad he is." "Yummy just wants love." He hears people on the television: "What you've got here is a kid who was turned into a sociopath by the time he was three years old." "Yummy averaged a felony a month for the last year and a half."
Like the graphic novel version of Fist Stick Knife Gun (reviewed earlier), Yummy should be canonical middle school reading. Yummy should be the 21st century Anne Frank. Middle school children should read it as part of their discussions on humanity, morality, and the responsibilities of civil society.
I'm going to leave it there. Except to briefly praise the work of Randy DuBurke - his brush-and-ink art is dynamic but easy to follow, and his characters verge on portraiture. Amazingly accomplished, but unobtrusive, not at all show-offy. It's like watching shows like The Wire - only on the second or third pass do you notice how well the thing is shot.