Michelle Isenhoff

The Paperboy, by Vince Vawter

51spucc4egl-_sy346_Along with capturing Newbery honors back in 2014, The Paperboy won a whole slew of awards. Check this out:

A Newbery Honor Award Winner
An ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book
An IRA Children’s and Young Adults’ Choice
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
A Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year
A National Parenting Publications Award Honor Book
A BookPage Best Children’s Book
An ABC New Voices Pick
A Junior Library Guild Selection

An ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Recording
An ALA-YALSA Amazing Audiobook
A Mississippi Magnolia State Award List Selection

And for pretty good reason. It’s an artfully portrayed story of a young man who can pitch the best fastball in Memphis, but he can’t say his own name without stuttering. We don’t even learn his name until the final pages of the book. (Incidentally, it’s very similar to that of the author, who also struggled with stuttering all his life.) Mam, the black woman who cares him, affectionately dubs him Little Man.

When his best friend leaves for the family farm during summer vacation, Little Man agrees to take over his paper route. But he faces it with great apprehension. How can he possibly find the confidence to interact with all those strangers? It is a very appropriate medium to push an eleven-year-old toward maturity and introduce us to a host of interesting characters, including Mrs. Worthington, the beautiful, troubled woman Little Man wishes he could help, and Mr. Spiro, an odd literary type who gives him a greater respect for the power of words.

Set in 1952 Tenessee, the book pays passing tribute to the racial issues of the day, including segregation in schools and the secondary status of black citizens. In some ways, it reminds me of The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird. These themes figure somewhat in the trouble Little Man finds himself in the climax of the book, but they’re subordinate to his personal growth. Another minor theme involves Little Man’s father, whose name is not on his birth certificate. There are references to the “man who made me with my mother”. It’s an adult theme, but it’s accomplished pretty harmlessly, and Little Man decides his true father is the man who married his mother and demonstrates his love every day.

By way of further parental cautions, there is a modicum of swearing, and Mrs. Worthington is usually drunk and a little risque, with various men in attendance at her house. But my biggest beef isn’t content; it’s the printing style. Instead of simply conforming to the norm and using quotes to signify when someone is talking, it uses an odd system of spacing. These breaks occur between every paragraph, but they’re left out between sections of dialogue. It’s confusing as all get out and drove me crazy on my Kindle! Why can’t we just follow the rules? They work really well!

While I wasn’t wild about this story, the language was pretty, and it lends an understanding to those who struggle with speech impediments, a subject that was new to me in children’s literature. I can give it a pretty solid thumbs up.

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The Paperboy, by Vince Vawter

2 thoughts on “The Paperboy, by Vince Vawter

  1. I really loved this book. I won it on Greg Pattridge’s blog. This is the best novel. So many layers to it, like you shared. It is the only book I’ve read that really shows a kid stammering. So few books out there and it is my favorite. Excellent review. I read it a while ago, so I enjoyed your review.

    1. I didn’t love it (mostly because of that formatting issue that tripped me up again and again). But it is beautifully written and multi-layered and unique. Very solid literature for kids. I can see that you’d really resonate with this one, Pat. It’s exactly the kind of book you feature on your blog. I’m glad you connected with it!

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