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Pay It Forward Paperback – April 27, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Catherine Ryan Hyde's Pay It Forward takes as its premise the bumper-sticker phrase "Think Globally, Act Locally" and builds a novel around it. The hero of her story is young Trevor McKinney, a 12-year-old whose imagination is sparked by an extra-credit assignment in Social Studies: "Think of an idea for world change, and put it into action." Trevor's idea is deceptively simple: do a good deed for three people, and in exchange, ask each of them to "pay it forward" to three more. "So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven.... Then it sort of spreads out." Trevor's early attempts to get his project off the ground seem to end in failure: a junkie he befriends ends up back in jail; an elderly woman whose garden he tends dies unexpectedly. But even after the boy has given up on his plan, his acts of kindness bear unexpected fruit, and soon an entire movement is underway and spreading across America.

Trevor, meanwhile, could use a little help himself. His father walked out on the family, and his mother, Arlene, is fighting an uphill battle with alcoholism, poor judgment in men, and despair. When the boy's new Social Studies teacher, Reuben St. Clair, arrives on the scene, Trevor sees in him not only a source of inspiration for how to change the world, but also the means of altering his mother's life. Yet Reuben has his own set of problems. Horribly scarred in Vietnam, he is reluctant to open himself up to the possibility of rejection--or love. Indeed, the relationship between Arlene and Reuben is central to the novel as these two damaged people learn to "pay forward" the trust and affection Trevor has given them.

Hyde tells her tale from many different perspectives, using letters, diary entries, and first- and third-person narratives from the various people whose lives Trevor's project touches. Jerry Busconi, for example, the addict Trevor tried to help, one night finds himself talking a young woman out of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge:

I'm a junkie, Charlotte. I'm always gonna be a junkie. I ain't never gonna be no fine, upstanding citizen. But then I thought, hell. Just pay it forward anyway. Kid tried to help me. Okay, it didn't work. Still, I'm trying to help you. Maybe you'll jump. I don't know. But I tried, right? But let me tell you one thing. I woke up one morning and somebody gave me a chance. Just outta nowhere. It was like a miracle. Now, how do you know that won't happen to you tomorrow?
Pay It Forward is reminiscent of Frank Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life. Like the film, this novel has a steely core of gritty reality beneath its optimism: yes, one person can make a difference, can help to make the world a better place, but sickness, pain, heartache, and tragedy will still always be a part of the human condition. If at times Hyde stumbles a bit while negotiating the razor-thin line between honest feeling and sentimentality, it's generally not for long. And the occasional lapse into artificially colored emotion can be forgiven when weighed against the courage it takes to write so unabashedly hopeful a story in such cynical times. --Sheila Bright --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

An ordinary boy engineers a secular miracle in Hyde's (Funerals for Horses) winning second novel, set in small-town 1990s California. Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney, the son of Arlene, a single mom working two jobs, and Ricky, a deadbeat absentee dad, does not seem well-positioned to revolutionize the world. But when Trevor's social studies teacher, Reuben St. Clair, gives the class an extra-credit assignment, challenging his students to design a plan to change society, Trevor decides to start a goodwill chain. To begin, he helps out three people, telling each of them that instead of paying him back, they must "pay it forward" by helping three others. At first, nothing seems to work out as planned, not even Trevor's attempt to bring Arlene and Reuben together. Granted, Trevor's mother and his teacher are an unlikely couple: she is a small, white, attractive, determined but insecure recovering alcoholic; he is an educated black man who lost half his face in Vietnam. But eventually romance does blossom, and unbeknownst to Trevor, his other attempts to help do "pay forward," yielding a chain reaction of newsworthy proportions. Reporter Chris Chandler is the first to chase down the story, and Hyde's narrative is punctuated with excerpts from histories Chandler publishes in later years (Those Who Knew Trevor Speak and The Other Faces Behind the Movement), as well as entries from Trevor's journal. Trevor's ultimate martyrdom, and the extraordinary worldwide success of his project, catapult the drama into the realm of myth, but Hyde's simple prose rarely turns preachy. Her Capraesque themeAthat one person can make a differenceAmay be sentimental, but for once, that's a virtue. $250,000 ad/promo; BOMC and QPB alternates; 7-city author tour; film rights optioned by Warner Bros. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439170401
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439170403
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (363 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #433,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of 30 published and forthcoming books, including WORTHY, THE LANGUAGE OF HOOFBEATS, TAKE ME WITH YOU, WHERE WE BELONG, WHEN I FOUND YOU, WALK ME HOME, SECOND HAND HEART, DON'T LET ME GO, and WHEN YOU WERE OLDER. New Kindle editions of her backlist titles FUNERALS FOR HORSES, EARTHQUAKE WEATHER AND OTHER STORIES, ELECTRIC GOD, and WALTER'S PURPLE HEART are now available. Also available is THE LONG, STEEP PATH: EVERYDAY INSPIRATION FROM THE AUTHOR OF PAY IT FORWARD, her first book-length creative nonfiction.

An avid hiker, traveler, equestrian, and amateur photographer, she has just released her first book of photos, 365 DAYS OF GRATITUDE: PHOTOS FROM A BEAUTIFUL WORLD.

She is co-author, with publishing industry blogger Anne R. Allen, of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: A SELF-HELP GUIDE.

Her best-known novel, PAY IT FORWARD, was adapted into a major motion picture, chosen by the American Library Association for its Best Books for Young Adults list, and translated into more than 23 languages for distribution in over 30 countries. The paperback was released in October 2000 by Pocket Books and quickly became a national bestseller. Simon & Schuster released PAY IT FORWARD: YOUNG READERS' EDITION in August of '14. It is suitable for kids as young as eight. A special Fifteenth Anniversary Edition of the original PAY IT FORWARD was released in December of '14

LOVE IN THE PRESENT TENSE enjoyed bestseller status in the UK, where it broke the top ten, spent five weeks on the bestseller lists, was reviewed on a major TV book club, and shortlisted for a Best Read of the Year award at the British Book Awards. Both BECOMING CHLOE and JUMPSTART THE WORLD were included on the ALA's Rainbow List, and JUMPSTART THE WORLD was a finalist for two Lambda Literary Awards. WHERE WE BELONG won two Rainbow Awards in 2013.

More than 50 of her short stories have been published in The Antioch Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train and many other journals, and in the anthologies Santa Barbara Stories and California Shorts and the bestselling anthology Dog is my Co-Pilot. Her stories have been honored in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the Tobias Wolff Award and nominated for Best American Short Stories, the O'Henry Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Three have been cited in Best American Short Stories.

She is founder and former president (2000-2009) of the Pay It Forward Foundation, and still serves on its board of directors. As a professional public speaker she has addressed the National Conference on Education, twice spoken at Cornell University, met with Americorps members at the White House and shared a dais with Bill Clinton.

For more information, please visit the author at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Debi Lewis on January 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Over the years, as I read more and more, my expectations get lower. I often just hope a book will keep me entertained on the train ride home, or distract me before bed. Catherine Ryan Hyde's books continually spoil me, though, and make me miserable with everything else I read for weeks afterward.
Pay It Forward is one of those stories that, like my grandmother says about her favorite books, "Just talks to you, like you're sitting right there in the room!" It's a story about normal people and their normal dreams, which, like most normal dreams, are really extraordinary when they come true.
It's so wonderful to step back from a book with a lovable character and realize that the character doesn't end with the book. It's never over, because the writer -- the character's creator -- is still alive and full of ideas. The idea of paying it forward really does come from a living, thinking person, and what's better, a person with a beautiful voice that just might reach out further than she can imagine.
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Julianne Wilson on June 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
When I read this book I was in the midst of an experimental project geared toward preventing child abuse via changing the energy in our community - something of a "Pay It Forward" in action -- reading Hyde's book offered me an affirmative boost that was magical. As soon as I finished reading it, I emailed more than a hundred people about the book - and the local libraries have not been able to keep it on the shelves since. It is an easy premise to put aside with cynicism - if one's choice in life is to hold on to the negative (this can't work, people aren't that way, etc.) and keep out the positive (each of us has the potential to change the world in powerful ways . . . every day). What I'm finding, is that more and more people are opening to joy and love and giving and letting go of control of outcomes (i.e. trusting in doing something wonderful just for the sake of doing it) - and if you're one of those folks, you'll find this book an energy booster, an affirmation, a gift for heart and soul.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By HH on August 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This story begins by introducing us to the main characters: Trevor, a 12-year old boy; Arlene, his recovering alcoholic mother; and Reuben, who is a wounded Vietnam vet and Trevor's social studies teacher. As an extra-credit project, Reuben challenges his class to do something that matters to the world and report on it. While his classmates do predictable projects like recycling, Trevor comes up with "Pay It Forward", a movement where he does momentous good deeds for three other people and in return asks each of them to do something for three people, thus paying it forward. Trevor's classmates laugh at him, believing that it's in people's nature to fail to follow through on the promise to pay it forward. But the movement begins to have terrific results on the world.
I liked the way the book was written. The author spoke from the point of view of all the main characters and told the story through all of them. The style had its drawbacks: it was easy to get confused about which character was speaking. But it worked for this book.
This isn't your ordinary feel-good Random Acts of Kindness type of book. This is a book about real people feeling real pain who had their pain eased in very strange ways. And it's about people who wouldn't normally reach out to others, but they take the challenge seriously. In short, it's about you and me, and our neighbors, friends, and coworkers, the people who aren't usually anxious to be generous to strangers. And it's about people like us doing better.
I would recommend this book to people who need to read something inspirational but find the Chicken Soup for the Soul stories cheesy. I would also recommend it to people who are looking for something larger than themselves to devote their lives to.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kimberly M. on May 2, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I hardly ever do book reviews- but, I loved this book so much I have re-read it a total of three times(skipping certain passages that bored me occasionally). The idea for the book itself is interesting- A kid changing the world to the point where acts of kindness are considered "everyday" rather than "newsworthy" through a method of helping others and have them pay the kindness forward rather than return it.

I orginally saw the movie and fell in love with the idealism behind it so much I knew I had to read the book- Now, I kind of wish I had just read the book- the movie leads out major details and creates HUGE gaps that the story only fills- Hyde talks in very simple terms and breaks the chapters up into first person narratives jumping from main characters to minor characters and back again- this might seem a little tedious- but, I found it extremely personal- it gave me extreme insight into what one character was feeling versus another- It also makes you feel as though everyone involved/behind the pay it forward movement is IMPORTANT.

The book focuses on some points/areas the movie just does not go particularly the relationship between Arlene and Reuben... which the movie touches only the tip of the iceberg with. Their is also a major bond between Trevor and his teacher Reuben reflected better in the book than the movie... The book also covers the "Pay It Forward" method that becomes a NATIONALLY known/ effective method- in which Trevor meets the President is the focus of many news shows and newspapers... he becomes very well known and a revolutionary hero of the hour.

The book is dated in the 90s- Clinton is president. One of the characters was affected by the Vietnam War and suffered burn scars.
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