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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Paperboy, written by Vince Vawter. Delacorte Press, Random House. 2013. $8.99 ages 12 and up

"My face felt hot with everybody staring at me like I was Clarabell the Clown on a stage without a horn to honk. The burning in my face and neck wouldn't go away. The grown-ups finally stopped looking at me and started talking and smoking and drinking their wine like everything would be hunky-dory if they just ignored me."

There are some books that leave an indelible impression on the reader. Paperboy is one of those middle grade novels for me. I had read about it when it was first published and knew that I wanted to read it. Serendipitously, I finally came upon a copy while searching for another book. Vince Vawter's debut novel has scenes and a story that I will never forget. I think you should find a copy, too.

The narrator is a stutterer and uses his father's typewriter to tell his story. It begins:

"I'm typing about the stabbing for good reason. I can't talk.

Without stuttering.

Plus I promised Mam I would never tell what happened to my yellow-handle knife. Mam might say that typing is cheating but I need to see the words on paper to make sure everything happened the way my brain remembers it. I trust words on paper a lot more that words in the air."

Imagine starting a book talk with that lead ...

It's a Memphis summer in 1959 and our narrator is 11. Little Man is a terrific ball player, an aspiring writer and a good friend. He has agreed to take over his best friend's newspaper route while Rat is on vacation. Thus, we meet two of the people whose papers he delivers, and an intimidating junkman bent on proving he is a ruinous opponent ...

Through quiet and compelling narration we learn that life is not always easy for the young. Emotional scenes, especially those involving his African-American caregiver and housekeeper Mam and the racial injustice and segregation she faces, grip the reader. When the bully forces her hand, Mam must step in to protect Little Man, her beloved charge.

Finding your voice in this world can be a daunting task for anyone. Sharing the narrator's world helps the reader realize what the world is like for a young boy whose voice is often unheard due to his difficulty in controlling his stutter. Seeing through that window is an eye-opener and is sure to generate genuine admiration for the boy who is sharing his story.  There are setbacks, and there are successes. He learns through his encounters that everyone struggles with something ... an important thing for each one of us to remember. This is beautiful and memorable writing.

An author's note only ups my admiration for this amazing book:

"My first recollection of my stutter is just before I was five. I have
been stuttering - sometimes fiercely, sometimes gently - for more
than sixty years now. Despite my impediment, I had a rewarding
career in newspapers, and to my continued amazement, I enjoy
telling my story to audiences, especially young people.
Have I been cured of my stutter? No. Have I overcome it? Yes."

Bravo, Mr. Vawter!

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