Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Paperboy Book Poster Image
Award-winning coming-of-age book teaches empathy, bravery.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers get a sense of what life was like in the South before desegregation. They'll also pick up some messages about the importance of empathy and what it means to truly be brave. Parents can use this book to talk about issues such as racism, prejudice, bullying -- and even what it means to be an adult. 

Positive Messages

Paperboy will encourage readers to think about racism and other prejudices that are based on appearance. The paperboy learns that everyone has challenges but also comes to appreciate his gifts, including how many people love and support him.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The narrator makes some mistakes along the way, but he's mostly an honorable kid trying to cope the best he can in a complicated world. He's frustrated when he can't help the people he loves and ultimately puts himself at great risk to protect someone dear to him.


The narrator notices a woman on his route has a black eye and overhears an awful fight she has with her husband. He also breaks into a man's house and knocks him down when the man comes home. A boy imagines throwing a rock at a kid who bullied him; later he does throw a bottle at a man strangling his nanny. His nanny returns to work after being severely beaten. A man is stabbed in a fight at a seedy bar. A woman reveals that her brother was murdered over a bag of sugar.


The paperboy has a bit of a crush on a lonely and beautiful woman on his route, and she flirts with him while she's drunk. The narrator learns his father isn't named on his birth certificate.


One use of "ass" and two uses of "bitch." A boy calls the nanny the "N" word, though the paperboy says it was only a "bad word...with a hard N sound."


Mentions of TV's The Howdy Doody Show.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink, and one character is an alcoholic. Characters smoke, and a woman chews tobacco.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Newbery Honor Book Paperboy, set in the segregated South, involves situations and attitudes typical of that era and calls for some maturity on the reader's part. A friend of the narrator's mother complains about a plan to integrate the schools, and his African-American nanny has to sit in the back of the bus unless she's with him. The story includes violence and questionable behavior: The narrator notices a woman on his route has a black eye and overhears an awful fight she has with her husband; he also breaks into a man's house and knocks him down when the man comes home. His nanny is severely beaten. A character fantasizes about throwing a rock at a bully and later does throw a bottle at a man who's strangling a woman. A woman reveals that her brother was murdered over a bag of sugar. Learning that his father's not named on his birth certificate, a boy wonders about his mystery parent. Adult characters drink and smoke; one's an alcoholic, and another chews tobacco.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCSM Screen name... February 14, 2014

Fascinating story on many levels

This A+ story is narrated by a young boy who has always been defined by his stuttering. He learns many life lessons during his temporary job as a paperboy (set... Continue reading
Adult Written byBluehoneybee January 21, 2021

Great read

Excellent for building empathy around differences/diversity.
Kid, 12 years old April 14, 2018

Very good book :)

I read this a few years ago so I don’t remember all of it. I usually don’t like reading though, but when I read this I read it very quickly so I know it was go...
Teen, 14 years old Written bylovebunny123 November 11, 2019
I really enjoyed this book. It had some inappropriate words in it, that kids most likely don't know until middle school or 5th grade. There was mention of... Continue reading

What's the story?

When he agrees to take over his friend's job as a PAPERBOY for a month in segregated Memphis, Tenn., the narrator knows it's going to be a challenge because he has a severe stutter, which makes it difficult to communicate -- so much so that, when one customer asks him to say his name, he's so stressed he faints. But thanks to the paper route, he suddenly finds himself involved in adult issues and dealing with new situations and people, including a well-read, philosophical Merchant Marine, who challenges him to think more deeply about life; a beautiful alcoholic who's very unhappy; and the town's scary junkman, who taunts him. He also discovers long-buried secrets about his own family and the nanny he loves. Through his summer experience -- including a night of violence -- he learns about a bigger world and starts to have more perspective on his own struggles, in the process learning to appreciate the support he really has.

Is it any good?

Paperboy is challenging but important. Readers will appreciate the narrator's struggles -- not only his speech problem but his growing understanding of the adult world's complexities and failings, from widely accepted racism to his family's painful secrets.

Author Vince Vawter based Paperboy on his own experiences. Readers may grow exasperated with his detailed explanations of stuttering, but he makes it clear how much the impediment affects the stutterer's life. The book's menacing atmosphere starts with the opening, "I'm typing about the stabbing for a good reason. I can't talk," and the violence is intense for a middle-grade novel. But readers mature enough to handle the material will come away with a deeper understanding of what life was like in the segregated South -- and what it means to truly come of age.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about racial discrimination. How have things changed since the narrator's childhood? How have they not?

  • How is this a coming-of-age story? Would it be different today? How? 

  • How does the narrator's stutter affect him and his dealings with other people? Do you know anyone who stutters? How do they deal with it?

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