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Review of "True Believer"

By Virginia Euwer Wolff
Atheneum, 2001
Review by Liz Bass on Apr 28th 2002
True BelieverTrue Believer is not really a novel, but a kind of prose-poem written in a stream-of-consciousness style. There is an adolescent spontaneity about it that works well in moving the story forward, but eventually that wears thin. The narrator is Verna LaVaughn, and she takes us through the experiences of her fifteenth year. That wears thin as well.

Here are some of the things we learn about her: She prefers to use the second of her two names. She lives in a housing project. She has friends whom she outgrows. She has a crush on a boy who doesn't reciprocate. She has a strong mother who wants to see her succeed. She is a good student and is placed in tough classes with no-nonsense teachers. She is guided by a wise counselor toward her goal of going to college. A boy in her Science class likes her but she doesn't like him that way.

I doubt that many fifteen-year-old girls who attend inner-city schools will bond with LaVaughn, whose race and cultural background are never stated. I do think that some school employees and social service professionals might be interested in learning more about how the LaVaughns of this world feel about the possibilities of life. After reading her story, they might better understand how to support and encourage a girl like her to be the best that she can be.

True Believer is a first person narrative, so all other points of view are shut out. A grown-up reader cannot fully identify with the adults in the story because they are little more than cardboard cut-outs. To take this book for what it is -- a rant against a goofed up world -- a reader of any age must bring more than a tablespoon of good will to the effort. Unfortunately, that good will is bound to dry up, given that the book is about fifty pages too long due to a bad case of never-cutting-to-the-chase-itis.

© 2002 Liz Bass

Liz Bass is a retired teacher and principal. She is the Mayor of a small city in Northern California.

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