Friday, March 7, 2014

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

Premise: An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend's paper route for the month of July, he knows he'll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything. (from Random House)

Title and Author: Paperboy by Vince Vawter
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series or Stand Alone: Stand alone
Format: Hardback purchased for classroom library
Content appropriate for: Grade 6-8

Three adjectives that describe this book: complex, dangerous, intense

I found Paperboy to be really compelling. I've never read anything quite like it. Being inside the head of a stutterer was fascinating - he had to think about all kinds of things that most people never have to worry about. I was also fascinated by the relationship between the narrator and his African American caregiver, Mam. Books for the middle grade audience about the 1950s don't usually come from the world of wealthy white people with live-in black maids.

The official trailer:

Still - three things frustrated me. Perhaps they're just my issues, but...

This book had a lot of violence in it. Sometimes it felt over the top. A student told me that she felt "uncomfortable" about these scenes, but I think that may have been the point. I didn't live in Memphis in the 50s, so I'm not sure how accurately these things were portrayed.

The jacket promises that Paperboy tackles race and segregation issues, but these elements were more of a backdrop. Occasionally the narrator mentions that he thinks it's unfair for the zoo or movie theater to have restrictive race policies. I wish these elements had been more central to the story, but I think the author may have consciously decided to make the story center on the narrator and his stuttering struggles. In that context, the race stuff is rightfully sidelined.

Finally, the narrator meets an important mentor on his paper route and the story really builds to a big reveal. One piece is discovered at a time, with four total. However, when the 4th piece is finally discovered, there is absolutely no clarity about their meaning. The narrator and his mentor are left hanging, and this wonderful relationship falls stale.

Overall, I really enjoyed Paperboy, but it wasn't quite the book I had hoped it would be. Perhaps those are just my issues, though.
3.5 stars

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