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What's the story?
Most boys can't wait for their tenth birthday--Palmer is dreading his. In Palmer's town, ten-year-old boys become wringers, who break the necks of wounded pigeons at the town's annual Pigeon Day shoot. Spinelli's taut, gripping tale of a good-hearted boy in a violent town gives the fear of growing up a whole new meaning.
For Palmer, there are perks to being ten: acceptance by neighborhood bullies Beans, Mutto, and Henry, getting a nickname (Snots!), and showing off his bruise from the Treatment (one punch in the arm for every year of his life). But there is one perk Palmer dreads: becoming a wringer. His small town hosts the annual Pigeon Day shoot, where eager ten-year-old boys wring the necks of wounded birds. Palmer secretly finds the entire ritual repellent.
To make matters worse, like a guilty conscience a stray pigeon comes tapping at his window one day, takes up residence in his closet, and won't leave. In a town that murders pigeons, how can he keep it secret ... and safe? Palmer asks his friend, Dorothy, for help, but she unknowingly sets the bird free in a place where it is captured, thus directing the tale to its unexpected climax.
Is it any good?
Reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, WRINGER is a mesmerizing morality tale about a gruesome town-unifying event and a boy who cannot make sense of it. The dread is pervasive from the first page, the casual cruelty of almost everyone around Palmer -- adult and child -- is frightening, and the rush of events sweeps the reader along just as it does Palmer.
Palmer struggles for bit to try to fit in, but the wild pigeon changes all that. Jerry Spinelli skillfully blends in bits of comic relief, like Palmer anxiously pacing back and forth as Nipper mimics and struts behind. This has the effect of making Nipper so charming, in a pigeon sort of way, that the reader is as frightened for him as Palmer is. Even the parallel of Palmer's secret friendship with Dorothy creates a sense of anguish and insecurity.
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