the last days of a Southside Shorty
by G. Neri
art by Randy DuBurke
Powerfully drawing you deep into the emotional turmoil of the events surrounding the real life story of Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, G. Neri is a master of HOOK and SUBSTANCE. To simply call this book a cautionary tale would be criminal. This book is like the streets. There is no master key to check your answers against. Like the streets, you draw your own conclusions. And, like the streets, the cautions are painted on the walls right in front of you.
Neri is less an author and more of a wizard, stirring his cauldron of words into a tonic that once drunk, sucks the you into that world completely. Even after closing the last page of the book, you remain deep in the realm of, in this case, south side Chicago in 1994. Yummy haunts you. Yummy's face appears when you look at your kids, playing in their safe, crime free neighborhood. Yummy calls to you from beyond the grave with not answers, but more questions.
A confident writer can pen a book that asks more questions than it answers, yet still satisfies to the core. And this is one of those books. There is no shortage of commentary on this event, but Neri only uses those various voices as fuel for the readers' own conclusions. And, in this day and age of nonstop bombardment of opinions coming from parents, teachers, media sources, politicians, everywhere.... it must be nice for a kid to pick up a book that truly honors their ability to draw conclusions using their own mental capacity. In short, Neri trusts the kids that will pick up his book. And that is an honorable trait in an author.
The use of this book's narrator is effective because you are not getting the answers from Yummy himself. You, like observers at the time, are on the outside peering in. The voices of all the neighborhood folks, the reporters, the cops, the gangsters, everybody, create a texture of noise that ebs and flows through the story.
Visually, the book is gorgeous. Even at first glance, the jacket will tell you that this is going to be a treat. Production on this book is nice and in the days of cutbacks from big publishers, Lee and Low Books has shown, once again, that they are willing to drop some extra coin to get a fine book into your hands.
The artistic storytelling of this book is very well paced, exciting, inviting, haunting, and heartbreaking. DuBurke portrays the hood in '94 with wonderful details. The use of long shadows that serve as both background for text and for directing flow, is affective. My favorite pieces are those with that dramatic shadowing. The light becomes a character in the book, one that alters how we view the characters, especially Yummy. Depending on the light, this boy can be a teddy bear hugging pup, or a cold blooded killa.
Graphic novels are hot. Will continue to be hot. But, what many of these books are lacking is what Hollywood has clearly abandoned...good storytelling, not gimmicks. Form is nothing without function. Style is meaningless without content. What makes a book great at heart is the same thing that makes a great movie, tv show, webisode, ballad, comic, and graphic novel. When it has a powerful story delivered skillfully so that the reader/viewer is affected by what they have consumed, then it does not matter what format the delivery system is. In this case, had Neri made this into his initially intended screenplay, it could have been amazing. But, I am very happy he ended up going the graphic novel route. Looks great. Format works well as a vehicle for this story. And, because there is a significant deficit of urban books for urban kids, particularly in graphic novels, I bet there will be quite the waiting list for this one at many libraries!
4 Stars. Two thumbs up. This book is sick! Go buy one for yourself and one for your local library!