Cover image for True believer
True believer
Wolff, Virginia Euwer.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, [2001]

Physical Description:
264 pages ; 22 cm
Living in the inner city amidst guns and poverty, fifteen-year-old LaVaughn learns from old and new friends, and inspiring mentors, that life is what you make it--an occasion to rise to.
General Note:
"A novel in the Make Lemonade Trilogy"--Book jacket.
Reading Level:
820 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.2 6.0 45718.

Reading Counts RC High School 5.9 11 Quiz: 23833 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Central Library X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
East Delavan Branch Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Eden Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
North Collins Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Frank E. Merriweather Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Anna M. Reinstein Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



We have a multitude of obstacles to overcome here.
We'll begin.
When LaVaughn was little, the obstacles in her life didn't seem so bad. If she had a fight with Myrtle or Annie, it would never last long. If she was mad at her mother, they made up by bedtime. School was simple. Boys were buddies. Everything made sense.
But LaVaughn is fifteen and the obstacles aren't going away anymore. Big questions separate her from her friends. Her mother is distracted by a new man. School could slip away from her so easily. And the boy who's a miracle in her life acts just as if he's in love with her. Only he's not in love with her.
Returning to the characters and language she explored so profoundly in Make Lemonade, Virginia Euwer Wolff rises to the occasion in this astonishing second of three novels about LaVaughn, her family, and her community.

Author Notes

Virginia Euwer Wolff is also the author of Probably Still Nick Swansen, The Mozart Season, and Bat 6. She is now at work on the third and final book about LaVaughn. Ms. Wolff lives in Oregon City, Oregon.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-12. "My heart was so stretching, like a room wanting company," LaVaughn says at the end of Make Lemonade (Booklist's 1993 Top of the List winner for Youth Fiction). In this equally powerful sequel, LaVaughn, now 15, challenges her heart's resilience again when she develops her first deep crush. Other things are going on as well. She drifts apart from her best friends Myrtle and Annie, who join a "Cross Your Legs for Jesus" club; her mother dates for the first time since LaVaughn's father died; and always there is the poverty and violence of the neighborhood, the pressure of school, and her unwavering goal to get to college. Her deepening intellectual excitement is an anchor, but LaVaughn struggles under the confusing new weight of her emotions, particularly when she sees her crush kiss another boy. As in Lemonade, LaVaughn tells her own story in heart-stopping stream-of-consciousness that reveals her convincing naiveteand her blazing determination, intelligence, and growth. Yet the writing style still allows the supporting characters to shine. Transcendent, raw, and fiercely optimistic, the novel answers some of its own questions about overcoming adversity when, in the end, LaVaughn's strength and capacity to love surprise even herself. A natural for reader's theater, this will capture even reluctant readers. --Gillian Engberg

Publisher's Weekly Review

"Eight years after the publication of her groundbreaking Make Lemonade, Wolff surpasses herself with this sequel," said PW in our Best Books citation. "In delving into LaVaughn's life, the author unmasks the secret thoughts adolescents hold sacred and lets her readers know they are not alone." Ages 12-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-A sequel to Virginia Euwer Wolff's Make Lemonade (Holt, 1993), Heather Alicia Simms presents LaVaughn's first person narrative in True Believer (Atheneum, 2001). LaVaughn, now 15, and her mother have weathered hard times, and LaVaughn recognizes just how much she owes her mother. Their mutual dream, for LaVaughn to go to college and leave their dismal inner city neighborhood for good, gives a continual focus to the teen and to listeners. Simms' narration inevitably gives a more prose-like feel to the story which in print looks and feels more poetic. But that is more than balanced out by the qualities Simms brings to the story. Her voice comes across very believably, and since every other character speaks through LaVaughn, Simms uses only slight but effective variations to indicate them. Her on-target reading focuses on this thoughtful teenager who confronts genuine young adult heartaches and growing pains: losing touch with her closest girlhood friends, the meaning of God and religion in her life, her widowed mother's brush with a gold-digger, the surprising discovery that ends her first romantic attachment. The language of this occasionally gritty story resonates with truth, personal growth, and the vision of a better life. While there are some mature themes, they are handled very gently. Every teenager should have the opportunity to meet LaVaughn.-Jane Fenn, Corning-Painted Post West High School, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1. My name is LaVaughn and I am 15. When a little kid draws a picture it is all a big face and some arms stuck on. That's their life. Well, then: You get older and you are a whole mess of things, new thoughts, sorry feelings, big plans, enormous doubts, going along hoping and getting disappointed, over and over again, no wonder I don't recognize my little crayon picture. It appears to be me and it is and it is not. 2. In the sex class we have to take by school law where they showed condoms and scared us about AIDS, they said, "Sexuality is the most confusing thing about being a teenager." I am sure this is correct because I strained my ears to hear over the racket of kids making a joke of the class, waving condoms on their fingers, hooting. And also because the sex teacher said it four times. But me and my friends Myrtle & Annie say it don't have to be the most confusing. There is math and other hard subjects too and street murders right near your block, even people you loved. And also torment of being let down by what you counted on. Me and Myrtle & Annie could say 1,000 examples. The thing to do is stay virgin. Then you don't have to wonder if you're pregnant or worry about being a bad person or decide whether to have the baby or abort it or wonder for the rest of your life if the baby is healthy in her adopted home. Or his. Me and Myrtle & Annie, we all want to save our bodies for our right husband when he comes along. There is several ways to do this saving. One is be snarly nasty to boys and not be their friend and they will stay away from you. But there is this girl everybody knows about, she hated boys and men of all kinds and one day she got raped just by going to the discount store, she is a wreck you pity, she slides her back along the locker doors in the hallways and has lurching eyes. Another way is Cross Your Legs for Jesus. This is the club Myrtle joined, and Annie will probably too. For the club you memorize Bible verses, and in the club you will go to Hell if you have unmarried sex. The club has many retreats and parties and fun picnics. Boys are in it too. The third way is never go anywhere by yourself. I believe in my heart each of these 3 are not for me. Be nasty to all boys and men? No. I like them. And it didn't work for that poor girl. And Cross Your Legs for Jesus seems like a good idea at first. But it doesn't feel right when I think about it. Does Jesus want that droopy raped girl to go to Hell? And number 3 is trouble from beginning to end. Never go anywhere alone? Sometimes I like to be alone. To think. I don't know how you recognize your own special husband when he comes along. Will he look totally different? Or does he look like everybody else and you're the only one to recognize him? I sure would like to get kissed. How that would feel on my mouth. How different I would be after, a changed climate down in my insides. 3. And another thing. My mom sat me down last night and she said, "Verna LaVaughn. You remember your college plans." This was not a question. She used both my names. "Sure, I remember." This is too offhand for her and she snaps at me about my tone of voice. She has radar, can feel rudeness coming, also sarcasm before they start. Also fake tiredness when you don't want to answer. With my mom you are alert at attention or nothing. "Yes, I remember my college plans," I say, polite. "Well, you make sure you do. Because I got a better job offer, I'll quit this mere little job if you're sure you remember about college. This job pays more, I can put more in your college account. It has better health benefits and dental." And she says she'll have night meetings, and for sure more paperwork. "I have to know," she says. "Will you make me proud I took this big jump? "Put yourself in my place, LaVaughn. More of me goes to the office, less of me can stay home. You understand?" Sure, I'm happy for her new job. This might mean I'd have more room to myself without her standing over me watching my own personal judgment. "I understand," I say back. "I don't think so. You know what this means? This means you can't do anything real dumb, LaVaughn." She looks at me with her face full of rules. I know the rules, have always known them. Go to school, do homework, have safe friends, have a job after school, don't make bad decisions. When I baby-sat for that Jolly with her two babies and no husband was a bad decision my mom thought, but I come out of that with no harm done, and I also helped Jolly get up after what her life done to her. And those little kids were so cute, I miss them still. "'Cause I can't pull you out of any mess, Verna LaVaughn," my mom aims her eyebrows at me. "You got your work to do, I got mine. There's only just so much of me to go around." At this moment I love my mom real much knowing so much of her has been going around me my whole life. Then in the next minute she says, "I seen many youngsters change their minds, forgetting their life plan or they pretend they never had one. You need a long memory, LaVaughn. You can't go forgetting the minute it gets too hard." I say I know that. We agree I still mean it about college. I tell her I appreciate her. And I truly believe those things are both completely true. And three hours go by till she starts again. I'm in bed, still awake. She comes in and sits on the edge and she says, "And another thing. "You know what would stop your college plans for sure, LaVaughn." This too is not a question. I'm supposed to know. I can think of many things, money first of all. Or a deadly accident on the street, her getting fired, me getting low grades, all the disasters that happen in many varieties to people just trying to go along. "A baby," she says. "Oh!" I say, in huge surprise. "Not me. For sure. Promise." "So you say now," she says. "Promises are easy to break," she says. "People get confused. You can't do that, LaVaughn. You can not let yourself get confused. You know what I mean?" "Mom," I say, "I'm not confused." "People are confusable," she goes on. "You keep your eyes on college. I tell you this, LaVaughn: What's down there between a person's legs gets them into more trouble than anything." This is embarrassing. I don't want to hear her opinion. "I'm counting on you like I never counted on anybody since your dad was here." I tell her she can count on me. We say Goodnight and I am relieved my mom is out of my own private room with her depending and counting on and warnings. I have hopes for life and some love too and surprises. After a long time I go to sleep and dream of dancing with somebody, nobody clear, just vague with his arms around me. And he likes the real LaVaughn in me. 4. I am lucky, born under a good star, maybe. Of the bad things that happened the worst, top of the list of all time, is my dad got killed when I was so little. It is a burden like they say. And nobody, my mom nor nobody knows how this private burden weights on me. But at least I had a dad. And he loved me gigantically. In the picture on my bedroom wall, holding a little version of me in his arms, we are in matching baseball caps, that is a happy man grinning. And my friends. I am lucky in them. Myrtle & Annie, they were with me all the way through. Myrtle and me were helpful to Annie all we could be when she had that divorce in second grade, and then the second divorce too, in sixth. And the way Myrtle's family takes drugs is a crime. Very often she did not even want to go home. Till her father went to rehab when we were in eighth grade, he is in there again now, too. He promised Myrtle he would make it this time. Still, she holds her breath. Me and Annie are sympathetic. But sympathy won't make her life different. My friend Jolly got things complicated last year, Myrtle & Annie rolled their eyes about her. Jolly couldn't help it. I kept telling them. It wasn't her fault she was pregnant before she was old enough to see straight. It was a dangerous world she got born into with hardly never a chance for niceness in her life. But when Myrtle & Annie got cleaning jobs at the church and got invited into the Jesus club there, first Myrtle, then Annie, they acted like Jolly was dirt down beneath them. Then Jolly ended up a slight hero so they were wrong about her, even if they never said so. But they are still loyal to me for life, and me to them. We don't have to say it in words, it just is. It's true the pavement around here is filthy from side to side, the alleys reek and they are full of deadly events that could happen any minute. High school students shoot their classmates and if you even take one glance at the science of the world you would want to never get out of bed in the morning, birds and beasts are going extinct, the rivers are poison, the fish are dying, there is dangerous rain. But I have these friends, and my mom even took a harder job so I can get out of here when I'm grown up. And my hope is strong like an athlete. Every morning when we walk through the metal detectors to get into school I know in my heart it may feel like a day of just waiting in lines and hearing bells ring and watching teachers try to keep order among those wrongdoers in the classes. But. It is an important day of dues-paying so I can go to college and be out of here. I'll pay. 5. And I am lucky to have a room of my own, instead of sleeping on a fold-out like Annie in her house. My room is my private territory complete with my special ceiling design. My ceiling above my bed is cracked like a tree hanging over, and last summer when I was restless one rainy day I painted branches on, and put a bird nest up there too and little baby birds peeking out with their eensy skinny feathers and their all-mouth look like on a science show. I used my watercolors from way back in childhood, my 10th birthday present from the aunts. The set has six different greens and enough odd hues and shades to do branches and a good tree trunk. I am quite proud of my painting. Well, my mom came home and saw the wall and ceiling and her mouth went into shock as a rent-payer. "Oh, LaVaughn, look what you did," she says, "Oh, no," she says, and "Oh, no," again, while she catches her breath and thinks. Then she calmed down. She stood on different spots in my room, at the corner of my desk, and by the closet door, and over by the wastebasket. She climbed on my chair and took a look up close, and she laid down on my bed to see it from there, never saying a word, just shifting around and looking. At the end of this short tour of my room which is not large her face got patienter and she said, "LaVaughn, that's nice, that's so nice. Oh, LaVaughn, that's real, real nice." And she says in a whisper, "Your dad would be proud." It made the lump come in my throat that came before lots of times when I'm wondering how it would feel with his arms around me like before when I was so little. Sometimes I think I can almost make the feeling. And then it disappears. I tell my mom thanks. 6. Myrtle & Annie sing their club song for me before gym. "I gave my heart to Jesus, God's kingdom will endure. He gives to me my energy, Jesus keeps me pure." Then the chorus goes "Cross your legs for Jesus," and it repeats. They say it sounds better with guitar and drums. They are obvious about how unsaved I am. They have new "JESUS LOVES YOU" shoelaces, bright gold. We do our warm-ups, then we go through the volleyball formations, we holler and huff and jump like we are taught, and it might look like old times among Myrtle & Annie and me, but it's not. "You're missing out on the miracle, LaVaughn," says Myrtle, in the showers. I am not innocent enough to ask what miracle she means. It is the miracle of being saved by God from being a sinner. I didn't want to argue. I imagine there is a God out there, or a Something. Something to get the whole thing spinning along way back there before there was anything to even have a shape to it. Myrtle & Annie and me went all through this subject before. But now they have new news. Myrtle & Annie say all Muslims and Jews and Hindus and other religions will go to Hell along with criminals and sexual teenagers and all tribes of foreign lands that have not come to Jesus and the Bible which they say God wrote. They don't explain how God came out of the sky and wrote down words. "You just don't get it, LaVaughn." It is the Joyful Universal Church of Jesus that tells them these things. They are right: I don't get it. I personally would like to know how God let my dad die. And why hasn't God made Myrtle's father get well from drugs yet? That would be a miracle. Me and Myrtle share a bottle of shampoo like always and I look back and forth at them as we dry ourselves and put on our clothes. With their club coming between our friendship I want to say, "Yes! I'll be in your club!" But I don't do it, it doesn't feel right. I don't think that is the job of Jesus, to keep me pure. And I don't mean to be mean to Jesus in my thoughts, that little baby born in a manger. But I don't get how he hates so many millions of people and sends them down to Hell. So as we are getting dressed and I run Annie's comb down the back of her hair like always for her exactly equal braids she wants, I am wondering is this the last time I will ever have Annie's comb in my hand, going down her hair. I keep my eyes on the back of Annie's head, bisecting her hair precisely. And my skin goes shivery for a moment. I want to join with them to have it be like the old times we had, but there's something holds me back. If there is a God and Jesus, is my dad in their heaven up there? And if there isn't, where is he? Can he see me? 7. And then the biggest surprise: Suddenly here comes Jody back again, changing everything. He lived here a long time ago, then he left and now he comes back, an astonishment in the elevator. When we were little we played kick-the-can a kazillion times. We went to each other's messy little birthdays and spilled ice cream and I remember like a movie how I stole his party hat one time, it was blue and I was grabby. Jody and me were the only ones that got punished when all of us kids on our side of the building were mean to a person in a wheelchair. Some of the big kids wheeled her very fast over big gashes in the sidewalk. Us little ones just watched, but that was bad enough. My mom was mad. Jody's too. "You like to stare at people that had bad luck, LaVaughn? Verna LaVaughn, you like to stare at that poor woman being tormented? What else you like to do, LaVaughn? Huh?" I told her I like to color in coloring books. She took away every coloring book I had, and the crayons and markers too for a whole month. "That will teach you," she said. She put them away in her closet and I couldn't color till she took them out again. Jody was not allowed to ride his bike for a week. Nobody else got punished. Jody's mom and my mom taught us cards, we played Hearts in their apartment and Old Maid. And Double Solitaire. Our mothers traded keys, one for each of us, hanging on a string so us little ones would have a safe place to go in emergencies. Even with self-defense classes in the building you still need a place to go in danger. It is a rule of the Tenant Council. Jody and me each used our keys on strings once way back then. Trying them out. He came to our house when I was just learning to make a peanut butter sandwich. I made two of them, he ate most of his. And I used the key in their lock one time. He showed me his tropical fish in a tank, he knew the big long names of those bright-colored swimmers. We traded comic books and never gave them back. Once Jody and me played cards for 2 days when it snowed and there was no school. And then they moved away. And now they're back again. And this is such a weird miracle about my little childhood pal: He is suddenly beautiful. In the elevator, it's all I can do to say his name. "Jody?" I say. I steady myself against the elevator wall in case it is not him. And because he is too gorgeous to look at head-on. He doesn't remember me and then he does. "You were good at kick-the-can," he said. "Really?" I said. "Yeah, you had good legs," says this brand-new old person. "Thanks," I say. "Do you still have fish in a tank?" I'm amazed at my normal sound, talking so calm to such beauty. He could be in movies, the way the parts of his face go together. His mouth moves and words come out, Yes, he still has fish, his hand goes to the elevator button, I follow it, the wrist, thumb, index finger, a button pushes, his arm goes back where it was. My chest is so full of heartbeats it jolts my thinking. Somewhere he was getting to be a perfect, handsome person while I was only going through the years. In the elevator maybe I asked him where he has been, maybe not. His face is standing there looking straight into mine, the shape of his mouth, oh, I can't imagine I ever saw such a boy before and yet it is still the face of Jody from back then. I get out of the elevator at my floor and I lean on the wall, my heart too loud for comfort and my brain not so level either. 8. I get my whole breath back by the time my mom comes home. She is not struck dumb by the news. She reminds me what I was not paying attention to when I was a kid, the reason why they left: Jody's mom moved them away to try to get Jody a better chance in life. "That woman, she's exhausted, she's drained, cleaning dirty houses day in, day out, Jody's all she's got." I make comparison with Jody's mom and mine but it is not the same at all. My mom never cleaned other people's houses. She would not live such a beat down life, she just would not. "Well, they tried, she couldn't pay that higher rent, she got farther behind all the time, and...." My mom plunks her paperwork on the counter, reaches over and rubs a sponge around the sink, lets her breath out in a huff. "...and here they are, back again." She says in her emphasizing voice: "She was the first one when your dad died. The very first one. She come up here with a casserole, she brought Jody along, she stayed with me the whole night." That is all a fog to me. Maybe I didn't notice him, so confused as I was. I'll never know how my mom made it through that time. "You be nice to Jody, LaVaughn. They don't have it easy." So that's the way it is about Jody. And she's telling me to be nice to him. Does she not even know what Jody looks like? I look at her flat as a plate, no expression. I say Sure, I'll do that. Jody's back just in time to start the new school year. My heart is clunking. Copyright © 2001 by Virginia Euwer Wolff Excerpted from True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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