A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
- Parents say
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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?
- Author: Vince Vawter
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Delacorte Press
- Publication date: May 13, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 18
- Number of pages: 240
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Awards: ALA Best and Notable Books, Newbery Medal and Honors
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