22 November 2010

Yummy: There Is No Rosebud Here

I remembered the case of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer from 1994 before reading Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. I didn’t remember the boy’s name, but I remembered the news reports about an eleven-year-old killer on the run, eventually found murdered by his own gang in a tunnel.

I therefore knew how the title character’s story would end in Yummy, the comics-style retelling of that episode by G. Neri and Randy DuBurke. Younger readers might not, despite the phrase “Last Days” in the subtitle and the mention of death on the front flap.

G. Neri structures the narrative to maintain that suspense. It begins with Yummy Sandifer shooting a teen-aged girl, then circles back to his upbringing, entrance into gang life, and early crimes. When we return to the shooting, the story seems to have caught up with its telling. Though still in the past tense, there’s no sign of what’s to come.

The narrator Roger is another boy about Yummy’s age, a fictional neighbor and classmate. But he comes from a normative American family: mother, father, one other sibling. But we also see that Roger’s older brother was the member of the Black Disciples gang who recruited Yummy.

Like the reporter in Citizen Kane, Roger undertakes to find out more about Yummy, asking neighbors and friends. He describes his own encounters with the boy, who has sometimes seemed abused, sometimes a bully, sometimes just another kid. Neighbors share contradictory thoughts about Yummy and his behavior.

Unlike Orson Welles’s film, however, Yummy ends without an answer, even a facile one. (Citizen Kane was always more about audacious storytelling than about its story.) We never learn what made Yummy so much more violent than other “shorties,” or exactly why he shot two people on one August day.

We do, however, get a sense that Roger’s family has helped to keep him from that path. There’s even a family reconciliation at the end, providing the requisite “sense of hope.” But for the questions the narrator asks about Yummy Sandifer and the girl he killed, there are no adequate answers.

The artwork fits that stark story. Randy DuBurke’s panels are all in black and white; he uses hatching to create the illusion of grays, but there are no washes or half-tones. It’s a high-contrast world full of shadows and looming perspectives, with spindly-legged kids running for their lives.

(These comments based on a review copy sent by the publisher, Lee & Low Books.)

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