By Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

What do you call an eleven-year-old gang assassin? A predator or a victim? In this graphic novel Neri reconstructs the events surrounding the brief life of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, a neglected and abused Chicago child who, after committing a string of felonies in 1994, shot teen bystander Shavon Dean, dodged the police for several days, and was ultimately executed by members of his own gang, the Black Disciples. Yummy’s story, which became a national media flashpoint, may seem like ancient history to prospective readers born years after the murders, and the veneer of fiction supplied her (fictional Roseland resident Roger, also age eleven, tells about the neighborhood incident and worries about his own older brother, who is a known gang member) has the look of edgy urban lit. But author’s notes and an appended bibliography (with the cited Time article “Crime: Murder in Miniature” readily available online) assure readers this is the real deal. Comics illustrator DuBurke’s gritty black-and-white artwork employs foreshortened backgrounds to bring the action right up in the reader’s face, whether it’s talking heads calmly discussing their theories on Yummy’s disordered personality, families in mourning, or a semiautomatic pointed directly out of the frame. Call it historical fiction to be technically correct, but for kids who still grow up believing that “you make it past 19 these days, you a senior citizen around here,” it’s heartbreakingly contemporary.