True 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
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.