I do apologize for taking such a long break from posting a MMGM. Life has been very stressful over the last couple months, and I fell a bit behind in my reading.
I’m finally starting to catch up. PAPERBOY by Vince Vawter is a book I was looking forward to reading ever since I heard about it. I loved GLORY BE or LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK, and PAPERBOY reminded me of both of them, but from the point of view of a boy with his own challenges.
The synopsis from Amazon:
Words don’t come easy for an 11-year-old boy coming of age in the segregated South of Vince Vawter’s moving novel, Paperboy. Spending the summer tending his best friend’s paper route leads to new discoveries, friendships, and danger as the lives behind the closed doors of neighbors, now his customers, are exposed for the first time. For a boy with an impossible stutter, this poses a whole new set of challenges to let his thoughts and feelings free. Paperboy is an impressive look at hope and bravery in the face of adversity and the fierce protection of love.
While I’ve read other reviews that said Paperboy started out slow, I did not personally find this to be so. I was immediately drawn in by the narrator from the moment he mentioned that he hated commas, because he had to pause so much in real life. I also liked some of the technical choices the author made: not using quotes for dialoging and using s-s-s-s before the narrator’s dialogue. This made me really feel like I was in a stutterer’s head.
But what really sold me on this book was the depth of emotion and the strong bonds that the narrator had with his two mentors, Mr. Spiro and Mam. Mr. Spiro is a fount of wisdom. He’s traveled the world and has rooms full of books. In many ways, he’s your typical yoda-like mentor. He says lines like this: “I contend that one is likely to find more truth in fiction. A good painting after all is more truthful than a photograph. Remember that, Young Messenger, for all your days.” (p. 66) A good reminder for those of us who are writers!
But it was Mam who stole my heart. No matter what happens, she holds her head high. “I fear no man the likes of Ara T. No matter who has a hold of me I know the Lord will protect my soul.” (p.201) Her willingness to lay down her life for the narrator (and he for her) was moving. I loved how Mam saw everything through the lens of faith and saw promise in the narrator he didn’t see in himself. As the narrator says at the end, he’s learned: “my soul doesn’t s-s-s-s-stutter.”
This is an intense book and will keep you on the edge of your seat at the end, even though it’s more character-driven than plot-driven. And boy does it deliver in characters. These are some of the most realistic and well-rounded characters I’ve encountered in middle grade.
Caveat: There are some violence scenes in this book, especially towards the end. I wouldn’t recommend it for sensitive readers or kids on the younger end of the middle grade range. But it’s a very important read.Have you read any moving middle grades lately?