Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

It is the summer of 1959 in Memphis, Tennessee and 11 year old Little Man, as his Mam, the housekeeper, calls him, has agreed to take over his best friend's paper route for a month while he visits his grandparent's farm.   Taking over the paper route is going to be hard for Little Man because it means he has to speak to people, strangers, and what makes that hard is that he has a serious stutter.   What makes it easy for him, however, is that he has a serious pitching arm for tossing papers onto porches.

Things go pretty well the first week.  On Friday evening, as he collects the weekly fees for the paper from his route, he meets two people who capture his attention.  One is the very pretty, usually very intoxicated young Mrs. Worthingham and the other is the intelligent, understanding Mr. Spiro, a former Merchant Marine.  Mr. Spiro, who immediately guesses about Little Man's stutter, gives him a quarter of a one dollar bill with a word written on it and tells him each week he will receive another quarter of the dollar with another word.  Little Man is fascinates with this.  The third person is a boy Little Man calls TVBoy because he is always staring at the television's picture but with no sound.

But when decides he needs his pocket knife sharpened so his can undo the bundles of papers he gets everyday to deliver, Little Man goes to Ara-T, a mean, nasty junkman who is known for how well he can sharpen knives.  Somehow Mam finds out about this and tells him to stay away from Ara-T because he is trouble...and sure enough, he is.   For one thing, he won't give Little Man his knife back.

Then Mam takes a few unprecedented days off and when she comes back, she is black and blue and badly bruised, but refuses to tell Little Man why.

But as events unfold, Little Man begins to suspect that Ara-T might be responsible for what happened to Mam.  And that all leads to more danger for both Little Man and Mam.

Paperboy is a quiet, gentle, excellently written coming of age story.  It is told from the point of view of Little Man who informs us right from the start:
"I'm typing about the stabbing for a good reason.  I can't talk.
Without stuttering."
And he writes his entire story without commas and quotations (Little Man will tell you why when you read his story and if you read to the end, you will also discover his name and why he doesn't use it until then).

Vawter's 1959 Memphis is spot on in creating the atmosphere of the Jim Crow south with all its racial tension by juxtaposing the world of well off whites with that of African Americans.

But what makes this such a poignant story is the 13 year old protagonists struggle with stuttering and reading about how he is forced to navigate the world because of it, rephrasing sentences so that easy sounds take precedence rather than the sounds that are difficult to say, people treating him like it is mentally deficient because of his stutter and even being picked on by other kids.

Vawter says that this is an autobiographical novel and if it is true that you should write what you know, it would explain the sense of reality in Little Man's story.  This is definitely a story that will resonate in today's world, despite being a work of historical fiction, because being a child who has something that makes them difference from other child was and still is difficult.  But Paperboy reminds us that victory, not revenge, is ultimately sweeter and can be had.

A word of warning: this book does contain some violence.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

12 comments:

  1. Wonderful message, I would love to read this novel. I think the problem is real and how people perceive it is a problem as well. What is wonderful is the way the boy tries to process his words and sentences to say things intelligently. That takes a lot of mental prowess.
    -Resh @StackingBooks.com

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    1. It really is a wonderful message and a wonderful book. I loved the way the author presented it to show how you have to work around the stutter. I used to stutter and spent time in speech therapy so I could really relate to this story.

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  2. Sounds amazing. I want to read it now!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. This is an amazing book and I hope you like it as much as I did.

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  3. Wow... definately sounds like a book worth reading. You've got me really curious.

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  4. This sounds like a powerful book. I will look for it to share with my middle grade readers. I stopped by from the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

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  5. Fascinating - I love when authors write in the world or voice of which their main character is living (like communicating with a stutter). Sounds like a great book!

    Stopping by via the Kid Lit Blog Hop

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  6. Hello, Alex, thanks for the review. Another good stop on the Kid Lit Blog Hop

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  7. This sounds interesting. I love books which address problems like this, especially when they're well done.

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  8. This book sounds intriguing and unique. I am definitely interested in what I heard. I hope to read it soon! I have added it to my list.

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  9. Wow - do you understand Jim Crow? After having read the book with my son, "spot on" is exactly opposite of the way I would describe his portal of 1959 Jim Crow Memphis. They sat in the front of the bus at their leisure. Really? As a timeless portrayal of a boy struggling with stuttering, sure. Against the backdrop of 1959 Memphis? Completely unbelievable and historically inaccurate.

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    1. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of the bus on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, AL. This lead to the Montgomery Bus Boycott that went on from December 1, 1955 to December 20, 1956. On November 15, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled the bus segregation in Alabama was unconstitutional, which meant their ruling extended to all bues in the country because the constitution applies to all of the United States. Did bus drivers like it? Did white people like it in the south? Probably not, but they couldn't do anything about it. There is a famous photo of Rosa Parks sitting in the front of a bus on December 21, 1956. The timining of Paperboy is 1959.

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