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The Outside Boy: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

PROLOGUE

IRELAND, 1959

I was dreaming of purple horses. Myself on one and Martin on the other, and we was bareback, and we was racing. These wasn't no strong, slow, piebald gypsy ponies like most of us travellers had in them days in Ireland, for pulling our wagon-homes behind us wherever we went. No, in this dream, me and Martin raced thundering thoroughbreds at a proper race meeting, like at Punchestown in Dublin. And the crowd waved their colors and they roared for us, never mind that we was travellers. They loved us anyway. Our purple stallions was sixteen hands high at least, and we was so swift on them we nearly took flight. I had the coarse thickness of my horse's mane wrapped full around my fist, and I squeezed his big, strong neck with my knees and kept my head down close beside his twitching ear. I whispered to him, "Go on, bucko," and he went and went, and we was leaving Martin and his horse in our dust. And then there was an almighty screeching howl that went up, and my purple horse vanished, and I was sitting up straight as a fencepost in the dark, my blanket wrapped 'round my fist and my heart hammering.

Dad was sitting up beside me, too, and we blinked confusion at each other in the dark. We wasn't sure what'd wakened us until we heard it again: a keen, raw and sharp. Dad's hands was like ghosts between us, and he gripping his own blanket close to his chest.

"What…" he started, but before he could finish the question, the wail rose up again and engulfed the camp. I could feel every hair on my body, and the wraithlike cry seemed liquid, seeping up through the planks of the wagon and into our clammy nighttime skins. There was a terror in that sound that was all new to me.

"Is it a bansídhe?" I asked Dad.

He looked at me like I was gone soft in the head. "Come outta that nonsense, Christopher," he said to me. "You know there's no such thing as a bloody bansídhe."

He shook his head at me crossly, and I felt stupid, and was glad for the feeling stupid. Of course there was no such thing as bansídhes. I was nearly twelve years of age—old enough to know better. But then there was a sudden BANG BANG on the door of the wagon, and I could feel my heartbeat clamber into my throat. My heels stuck into the floorboards, and I did a backwards crab-gallop until I smacked into the wall. My chest was heaving as I stared past my dad at the wagon door. He was staring at it, too, with eyes as wide open as mine.

"Dad?" I said.

I wanted him to reassure me—just a word, a squeeze—that it would be okay.

"Wait there, Christopher," he said, and he started to move toward the door.

And now the clatter at the door grew louder, and there was nowhere for us to go, only to cower inside and await the doom of the shrieking specter who was rattling at our wagon door. I stopped breathing altogether, and the door creaked and swung on its hinge, gaping open into the frigid night. The cold air flew in at once and reached my bare ankles. I trembled over them, folded my arms around my scrawny knees, and shook like a wet hound.

"Christopher!" the specter shrieked, and it was my granny.

She was calling my dad, who I was named after. Granny, heaped in blankets outside in the not-yet pinkening light, her hair and eyes wild. Her mouth stood open and revealed all the gummy graves where her teeth used to be. She looked so unnatural that my terror was hardly relieved at all.

Dad was only in his bare feet, and he made a frantic silhouette, leaping out of the wagon after his mother. I crawled to the door behind him and watched Granny deliver her unholy cries into the dark camp. I pulled my blue ankles up and tucked my blanket 'round them while I watched the horrible scene unfold: Granny, down on her knees beside the deadened fire, rocking back and over so hard I feared she would topple into the ashes. The keen she let up was so thick and tender I could nearly see it coming out of her, her breath spiraling out violently in torrid colors, defeating the darkness and drenching the camp with grief.

"Mam," my dad said quietly.

He was in front of his mother now, and he'd his hands on her shoulders. He shook her a small bit, but she took no notice of him. She tore at her white hair until she looked like a proper bansídhe herself. I started shaking again, and I wanted to believe it was from the cold, but my stomach was turning too.

"Mam!" Dad said again, louder this time, and shook her more roughly.

For a moment, I thought he would raise a hand to her, to snap her out of the state she was in. I swallowed all the billowing colors and held them fast inside me, but my knuckles stayed white, gripping the doorframe of the wagon while I watched. Uncle Finty was there now, too, and they both looked small and helpless, standing beside the ruined fire watching their mother weep.

My cousin Martin's head popped up in front of me then, and without a sound or a word, he swung the full weight of his body up on one arm and into the wagon beside me. He pulled open my blanket and I was blasted with the cold again, until he burrowed and folded us in tight. In the closeness, he smelled like tree bark and moss. We watched our fathers; we tried not to watch Granny.

"Go and check the wagon, Christopher," Finty said to Dad.

My dad hesitated, put his hand on his brother's shoulder for a long moment, like he was gathering strength for what he knew he'd find. Then he nodded and turned toward Granny's wagon door. It was hanging open, too, and she howled again as he went. I shivered under our blanket, to hear the sound of that wordless pain, unleashed and raw, galloping around the camp. Granny was like a toothless wolf. We watched without blinking while my dad disappeared into the wagon. Martin squirmed in even closer beside me, and I could feel his elbow stuck between two of my shivering ribs, like we was twins for a minute, instead of cousins. We was joined at the eyes and ears, joined at the dread. Everything was silent and stretched—only the tidal rhythm of our shared breath pushed the seconds forward. I wished for my mother.

Dad came out again, shaking his head.

"He's gone," he said.

His face was pale in the moonlight. Gone. I knew what he meant. He meant my grandda.

My stomach clutched, but my mind resisted. I wasn't ready. My fingernails dug into the flesh of Martin's arm, but he didn't wince. He didn't even move—only a shiver in his neck. A gulp.

"Grandda," I whispered, and I could feel a flood in my head, a distant, unleashed roar inside me. I dammed it up quick.

"Will we waken him, do you think?" Granny said.

Martin and I looked at each other in horror.

"Is she gone as well?" he asked me. "Gone in the head, like?"

Martin was always asking me things, even though he was a couple months older than me. He was twelve already. I shook my head and tried to answer him. But just like Grandda, my voice was away.

We stayed there while the sky lightened lilac at the edges. Me and Martin, joined at the hair, joined at the knuckles. We didn't move, didn't speak. I think he felt it too—some unspoken sense that if we stayed very still, if we blurred into each other, it mightn't be real. We tried that elusive magic of stillness, hoping like we always did that we might capture it, and it might be the answer to everything. But in truth, we was children of motion, and we didn't know how to stand still then. We didn't even know that we could.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Christy, nearly 12, is an Irish Traveller, a Pavee, a child of motion who, with his family, journeys restlessly from town to town, never staying in any place long enough to call it home. But when his beloved Grandda dies, family secrets begin to spill out, and things begin to change, perhaps irrevocably. Set in Ireland in 1959, Cummins' first novel (she's also the author of the memoir A Rip in Heaven, 2004) is a deeply moving and elegiac look at a vanishing culture. Told in Christy's vernacular but often poetic first-person voice, The Outside Boy is gorgeously written and an implicit celebration of Irish storytelling. And it offers a convincing and evocative look at a way of life little known or understood by the many foreign to it. Though Cummins' treatment of the Pavee may sometimes seem idealized, she is quick to acknowledge their occasional petty thefts and tradition of mooching. Her overriding, beautifully realized theme is larger than that, however: it is the universal desire to find a place where one belongs and people—whether one's own family or as-yet-unknown others—whose presence provides essential comfort, contentment, and completion. --Michael Cart --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Group USA (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451229487
  • ASIN: B00403NG4A
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,288,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By delicateflower152 TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 12, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In "The Outside Boy," Jeanine Cummins has created a poignant, coming-of-age tale which captures the reader and never lets go. The quest for one's identity, the desire for answers, and the need to belong are beautifully addressed in this fine novel. Cummins employs those themes to build the story to its climax and wraps the tale neatly into its satisfying conclusion.

Christy Hurley is an outside boy; he lives outdoors, his traveller family is outside society's mainstream, and Christy feels himself to be an outsider even in his own life. Told his mother died shortly after his birth, Christy discovers a mysterious newspaper picture floating through the air when his cousin sets fire to the wagon holding his deceased grandfather's body. He sets out to learn the identity of the woman in the picture. With the help of quirky Mrs. Hanley who owns the bookstore, Christy ultimately uncovers the truth about his parentage. In doing so, he comes to accept himself and his life and, eventually, to forgive those who have protected him through the years.

Jeanine Cummins has produced an outstanding book that almost anyone can enjoy. The characters have strong personalities; each has unique qualities that strengthens their role in the narrative and adds depth to the novel. Emotions are real and will touch the reader deeply. In one of the most memorable scenes of the book, Christy leaves a medallion on his half-brother's pillow. That medallion is one his father gave to Christy's mother and that Christy has worn, all his life, in her memory. In doing so, Christy recognizes and accepts he is a Parvee, a gypsy, a traveller; the life he dreamed of is not what he thought it would be and is not his life.
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Format: Paperback
Jeanine Cummins has written a beautiful coming of age story about a motherless gypsy boy, who struggles to discover who he is in a rapidly changing world--1950's Ireland.

This story is told in the unique and intuitive voice of a 12-year old Irish Pavee boy, "Christy"--short for Christopher. They call themselves "Travellers." Unkind town folks, or "Buffers" call them "Tinkers"--you would know them as "Gypsies." At this point you're probably starting to hum as Cher's rendition of Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves begins to swell in the background... However, Cummins' s sympathetic treatment of these members of society's fringe, may cause you to want to join their merry band--painted wagons, campfire songs, and all... Christy provides an excellent point of view for us to learn about his Pavee culture, and the react these outsiders get from the townspeople--both the inclusive and the cruel.

Although Christy is the primary character, we come to care about many of the other supporting cast-members that make his world go round. In fact, two family members that take up a lot of energy in his mind and space in his heart, are deceased--a term our young narrator notes is "a nicer word than dead'." His "Mam", who died during childbirth, and thus causes him to carry around huge tinker-buckets full of guilt, and his "Grandda" whose passing provides the drama for the prologue, setting the stage for how Christy's life will drastically change. Christy's Dad, Christopher, his cousin, Martin, his Aunt and Uncle, their other children and "Granny" make up the small family of Travellers that take us on Christy's journey of self-identity.

Although The Outside Boy is a character-driven book, their development is strong enough to move the plot forward in a well-paced story.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a beautiful novel of wood smoke and holy water, fist fights, prayers, and the quiet clop of horse's hooves on country roads. It begins with a grief-stricken grandmother on her hands and knees howling in the night, an event that perfectly encapsulates the shrinking world of the Irish Travellers in the late fifties; exposed and financially desperate, never far from death but full of faith, freedom and the comfort of families.

The Outside Boy is Christy, a boy on the cusp of adolescence. Christy and his cousin swear and steal and beg and swindle, and rarely bother to hide their distaste for the "duffers" who live in houses. But their family must settle briefly so the boys can attend school and make their first Communions. Interwoven with their misadventures in school is the story of Christy's search for information about his mother, who died seven minutes after giving birth. Twists, turns, surprises, suspense, it's all in here, along with a father trying to carefully instruct a son in who he is and how to remain true to it in a changing world.

There are kind, decent and loathsome people in this book. There is also an honest portrayal of the Travellers at their best and worst. At times the author has allowed overly poetic language to come spilling out of Christy's mouth. But the the language is so beautiful, and the tale being told is such a good one, that it only takes the reader out of the story for a moment.

I absolutely fell in love with the characters, the wagons, the animals, the landscape and the language. I was desperate to know how it all came out, but so very sorry to see it end. This is just a great story.
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