Paperboy by Vince Vawter
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: Muggy summer southern heat, a young person becoming aware of the wider world and its inequalities, memorable original voice. No, I’m not talking about To Kill a Mockingbird. I am talking about a terrific new book for young readers that shares those elements, Paperboy (Random/Delacorte 2013).
The eleven-year-old narrator reveals that he is called Little Man by his long time black housekeeper, Miss Nellie, and “best friend in the world” next to his friend Rat. He is called a lot of other hurtful things at school due to the serious stutter than plagues him and he chooses mostly not to talk at all, focusing on his searing fastball. Little Man is observant and smart, skills he needs as he takes over his friend’s paper route for the month. The delivery is a breeze but the real challenge lies in collecting as he is forced to talk to the people on the route. This summer of 1959 in Memphis is a turning point for Little Man as he is thrust into a world that makes new and startling demands, and changes him and his understanding of the world and himself.
There is so much I like about this quiet and compelling book. The characters are wonderfully developed and, unusual in a book for young people, many of the central characters are adults. Little Man’s encounters with the people on the paper route are at the heart of this story, propelling his first steps away from childhood and into a wider awareness of the world. The setting is so well drawn, filled with wonderful period details. Small incidents of every day life have a wonderful authentic feel and a truly terrifying situation adds danger and suspense. The portrayal of the narrator’s stutter is particularly skillful, providing readers with a real sense of the frustrations, impact and multiple issues involved.
Just so you know, I hate commas…My composition teacher said a comma meant it was time for a pause. I pause all the time when I’m trying to talk whether I want to or not. Humongous pauses. I would rather type a gazillion ands than one little comma.
A satisfying resolution brings this unique story to a close but readers will have much to think about long after.
An Author’s Note describes Vawter’s own experience with stuttering and provides information on historical and current speech therapy practices along with resources.
Cindy: Our sixth graders read Francie by Karen English and then read another book of their choosing that features prejudice of some kind. Many of them choose another historical fiction or nonfiction book about an African American child, Jim Crow laws, or other civil rights issues, but the assignment allows for a broader perspective. I booktalk fiction, nonfiction and biography and include prejudice about religion, disability, body image, sexual orientation, women’s rights, and anything else I can think of that fits the theme. Sadly there is no shortage of issues related to prejudice in our world. Vawter’s book is going to be a perfect fit for this unit, although I’ll be booktalking it earlier in the year too for free reading or historical fiction units. I could quote some more passages (Victor likes contractions as much as he hates commas) but Lynn has given you a good flavor of the novel. Little Man’s coming of age journey is so full of truth…how something like a first job, even a part time one, can change the way in which a young man sees the world and comes to understand his strengths and weaknesses (and those of the people around him) in new and soul-changing ways. Put this one on your summer reading list. You won’t be sorry.