The latest 2010 Cybils Graphic Novel (Young Adult) finalist book definitely represented a change of pace. Yummy: Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri delivers a tough history lesson about the decaying culture of the Chicago southside, where children turned to gangs for support, and the gangs exploited the kids by using them in violent crimes for which juveniles received almost no punishment. Neri invents a child to view the events, someone who played with Yummy when they were small and who never knows whether Yummy has turned up to bully him for lunch money or to show off a frog found in the sewers.
When Yummy tries to impress his gang leaders by shooting a rival, his world collapses. He kills a neighborhood girl instead, and the authorities who ignored him while he stole cars and mugged his peers instigate a man-hunt (a boy-hunt) that leaves Yummy terrified and lost. The nation solemnly discusses Lost Youth and gang violence while Yummy huddles in derelict houses and under dripping bridges, until the gang decides he's more trouble than he's worth. My seventh grader had eagerly grabbed this book (he loves graphic novels) and then indignantly told me that it wasn't fit for kids. He views the death of children as too harsh for his eyes, and he was shocked to learn that it basically told a true story. Neri tells a powerful story, but one that is probably more appropriate for high school than junior high. Sad that the boy in the story might still be in elementary.