Paperboy is a coming-of-age novel. It takes place in 1959 and focuses on a young boy with a huge problem.
And believe me, when you stutter, nothing else much matters. The majority of your being is focused on trying to be "normal."
Now, before you start throwing things at a virtual me because of my review title, I've had a stutter since I was in elementary school -- this was back in the late 1970s. One important technique that I used -- just like in Paperboy -- was to place a soft "hiss" before difficult words (I was more a "blocker" than a "stutterer"). Book, because of the hard B sound, would cause my mouth to freeze up (like a "closed fist", says the main character in Paperboy) and putting a soft "s" sound in front of it allowed me to force the word out. If the hiss didn't work, I'd often change the word entirely -- another technique often used by stutterers. For example, using the word "Story" instead of "Book." Story, after all, starts with a soft S sound. Much easier! (And much less panic provoking!)
Like Little Man (the main character's nickname in the book -- and nicknames are important because they often take the place of hard-to-pronounce real names), I was in speech therapy and learned many ways to compensate for my stutter, though if I was faced with reading out loud (darned teachers who loved round-Robin reading), giving speeches, or talking to people in general, I would often panic. Freeze up. And my speech problem would be all the more severe.
Reading this book was almost reading about my own life. No, I didn't play baseball or deliver papers, but I could relate to every single stuttering-related issue faced by Little Man. In fact, I was in speech therapy for years and taught exactly the same techniques in my non-fictional life. I understand the tricks he used and used all (yes, all) myself at one point. I understand the frustration at having people think I was "retarded" (his word... 1959 remember) or "stupid" because of how I spoke. I remember hating when poeple would finish sentences for me.
Although my experiences took place a decade-and-a-half after Paperboy, stutterers were treated the same. And techniques used to treat the issue were similar. Not much was known about stuttering at the time, and many thought I may have started because my first-grade teacher made me switch from being a lefty to a righty. Being left handed was not acceptable in her classroom, apparently. (In many classrooms at the time, honestly. Funny how time changes things, eh?)
In Paperboy, Little Man, through the task of delivering papers -- a small job for most, but an extremely difficult one for him -- meets a diverse group of persons in his neighborhood and learns much about himself and life in general. He becomes friends with a deaf boy, dialogues regularly with a scholarly older gentleman while sitting on a porch swing, and comes to understand why one housewife drinks all the time and flirts with him. His own family, including a black housekeeper who still sits in the back of the bus, provides him with just as much insight.
An excellent book. Highly recommended.
on April 28, 2013
A strong setting takes a run of the mill novel and raises it up. This novel is aptly titled, because in reading it, one truly gets what it's like to be a paperboy. The boy (unnamed throughout most of the novel) is taking over his friend's paper route while he's away for the summer, so as he learns the ropes, so does the reader. However, this paperboy has to struggle with something that others probably do not -- his stutter. So talking to the customers and asking for payment is a challenge.
However, at 11, he's at the time in his life when he's going from being a little boy to entering into adolescence which brings more awkwardness, but also more determination and pride. He already knows that he's one of the best baseball players around, but he wants to overcome the barriers that stuttering has put in his way.
The other strong setting is the place -- 1959 Memphis. That means that while his parents go out to dinner parties, he is cared for by his African American housekeeper/nanny Mam (it seems as if 50's housewives did a lot of socializing, but perhaps I'm wrong). Mam gives him confidence. A customer on his route who takes the time to talk, listen, and ask questions also helps him figure out who he wants to be.
The novel is great on so many levels -- a great cover, a great premise, lots of heart -- that by the time I got to the end, I forgot the bang that started it all. The first sentence:
"I'm typing about the stabbing for a good reason. I can't talk.
What a hook! One can't forget that, but the story diverged from that event immediately, only coming back around to it in the end.
CONTENT NOTE: I would say this is a book for older middle grade readers, at least 5th and up. There is some swearing. For example, he is practicing he's "p's" right at the beginning of the novel, and says "pitch" as he tosses the newspaper, but a grouchy woman overhears him, thinking he was using a "b." There are also some mature plot elements such as drunkenness, and abuse (which might go over the head of a younger reader), and some violence. That said, for the right audience, this is a wonderful book. I wouldn't give it to my 9-year-old now, but I hope he'll read it in a few years.
I ordered this through Amazon Vine because I thought this would be a great book for my 6-year old twins to learn about empathy, perspective taking, and vulnerability. Can we teach our kids morality in a secular manner? Yes, through books like this. All sorts of questions emerged from this book that I was able to discuss with my kids:
what does it mean to be true to yourself?
when is sharing something you are not good at a strength instead of a weakness?
what would you do if you were in his situation?
great stories offer the best psychological insights.
Long time newspaper man, first time novelist, Vince Vawter tells the tale of an eleven year old summertime paperboy in 1959 Memphis, Tennessee. On the cusp of the civil rights upheaval that characterized the city in the 1960s, `Paperboy' expertly delves into the personal struggles of a paperboy whose sever stutter limits his ability to communicate, creating barriers in his relationships. Most notably, is the strained and superficial relationship he has with his mother. Fortunately, "Mam", his African-American care-taker loves and understands him, providing a moral compass through the trials and tribulations of his summer. The nuance of the times is beautifully explored through the various newspaper customers the paperboy encounters on his route. Each with a story, sometimes adventurous, sometimes odd, others desperate.
The best stories come from authors who write about what they know. The struggle for the paperboy to make connections to people, including his own parents despite his stutter, is made all the more poignant because the author, Vince Vawter, has lived with stuttering all his life. This is a novel about the struggle to overcome limits, and the reward that comes from that struggle.
I found this book very appealing at first, but my enthusiasm waned toward the end as it seemed like the Message got a bit heavy-handed while, somewhat paradoxically, the theme got a bit muddled.
The book opens with the main character telling us about himself and his life as a stutterer. He types because that's the only way the words flow freely. Speaking is, at best, a chore, and sometimes all but impossible. Because of his speech problems, few people can - or bother to - understand him. One such person is "Mam", the black maid who came to live with the family when he was five, and the other is his best friend "Rat". "Mam" is actually Miss Nellie Avent while "Rat" is actually Arthur, or Art. Our narrator has learned to use nicknames to compensate for the difficulty of pronouncing people's actual names. Unfortunately, one of the hardest names for him to pronounce is his own. We eventually figure out that our narrator is the author and that the book is largely autobiographical.
Names aren't the only words Vince has trouble with. Many hard consonant sounds cause him trouble because of tongue placement and air flow. Softer sounds like f's and s's are easier and, in fact, Vince has learned to slip in an s sound to "sneak up on" more troublesome sounds - his speech teacher calls it Gentle Air. The book is full of fascinating explanations of how Vince's speech impediment affects him and the tricks he uses to compensate for or get around it.
But the big challenge comes during the summer before his thirteenth birthday when he agrees to take over Rat's paper route for the month of July while Rat visits his cousins' farm. Vince knows he can handle the route itself - he's the best thrower in town, which is why he plays pitcher. It's the collecting part that's got him worried. He sure hopes people put their envelopes on the door so he won't have to stumble over "ninety-five cents".
But it turns out that the paper route leads to some interesting developments. Since he has to talk, he finds himself having more encounters with actual people - and it's not all bad. There's drunk but beautiful Mrs. Worthington who arouses in Vince a mixture of youthful amore and pitiable concern. There's TV boy who's always glued to the set every time Vince comes around. And then there's Mr. Spiro, the third person in Vince's life who understands him. And perhaps the first to really challenge him. This part of the story I found charming and compelling - the story of an isolated, largely protected youth finding his place in a larger world.
But underneath this plot runs a subplot involving Ara T, one of the local "junkmen" who collect metal and other usable objects in the alleys behind the house. Mam has warned Vince to stay away from Ara T, but Vince is drawn to him anyway. And besides, no one can sharpen a knife like Ara T, and Vince needs a sharp knife to cut the cord on his papers every day. Things take a more sinister twist when Ara T refuses to give the knife back, and eventually Mam gets involved. After losing everything in a robbery, Vince and Mam find themselves in one of the seediest parts of Memphis tracking down Ara T, and we learn that he and Mam have a long history. This part of the story just doesn't seem to mesh into the rest of the story - there's too much of a clash with the lazy, idyllic life Vince has known. We get suddenly wrenched out of that world into a much darker world, only to find ourselves back in the original world, without a lot of closure for either world. We're left with a lot more questions than we started with and we have no deeper understanding of the words that Mr. Spiro has given to Vince - not even a hint.
Yet after this experience, it seems like Vince's world is just about perfect. He's confronting his speech impediment and coming out of his shell. Because of the paper route and the experience with Mam and Ara T, he's suddenly a whole new person and he can overcome his challenges just by facing them. The ending just felt too disjointed and too easy. The book makes an admirable attempt to confront both the issues surrounding Vince's speech impediment and issues surrounding segregation, but the two issues never gelled very well and it feels like both were sacrificed a bit in the combination.
Nonetheless, I recommend this book, if for no other reason than the compelling description and deep understanding of stuttering. Kids who stutter themselves will appreciate the understanding and even those who don't will gain insight, not only into stuttering, but into other insecurities that hold us back and make us feel unworthy or unable to fully participate in life.
on December 18, 2014
1) The author doesn't use commas or quotation marks. It's not as bad as Cormac McCarthy in terms of a distracting lack of punctuation, but I had to go in and write in quotation marks in order for my 10 year old kid to not struggle with it. The lack of commas are fine, but I really hope later editions add quotation marks.
2) The concepts are "heavy", and I'm not sure kids will truly get them. Not the way adults do, at least. I personally don't find them "inappropriate" for kids 10 and up (not if they've been warned by their parents about pedophiles and know that substance abuse, racism, and domestic violence, etc happen...the local nightly news is really much more brutal than anything in this book, nevermind CNN...) but they're added to the plot in a way that I think just leaves kids going "Well, that's weird and wrong." And that's it.
3) The basic plot really is fairly predictable, and there's not a lot of action till the end. A lot of kids probably find it somewhat boring (mine did.)
4) On the plus side, the book is not "stupid" the way a lot of literature for kids is, and the kids act and think like real kids do. It doesn't insult the intelligence of younger readers, or have obnoxious "one liners".
1) It's good historical fiction and a believable snapshot into the segregated South of the late 50's, written from the perspective of a likable kid with an almost debilitating speech impediment. It's a sweet, uplifting, and interesting story.
2) As far as books that qualify as "literary fiction" go (and I think this does) it's one of the better ones, even though it's quite obviously written for children.
3) There are a lot of dysfunctional adults in this book, and seeing them through the eyes of a child is fascinating for an adult reader. The concept of seeing segregation through the eyes of a white kids is also fascinating, and when the author writes that this is more memoir than fiction, it's impossible to doubt. I feel genuinely wiser for having read this book.
Overall, it's a very good book, and I do recommend it for both kids and adults, in spite of my questions about how much kids can really take away from it. It is a lot like "To Kill a Mockingbird", but significantly better, in my opinion (although I must admit I'm not really the biggest fan of TKAM. Blasphemy, I know!)
on November 20, 2013
I'm typing about the stabbing for a good reason. I can't talk.
I was hooked.
I 'm a retired speech therapist who spent many frustrating years working with stutterers. This is one of the best books I have read about a stutterer. Paperboy has humor, empathy, insight, and simplicity as Mr Vawter tells his story so cleverly that you can't put it down. The kind of book I've been waiting for all year for many years! It is my favorite book of the year, and I can't wait to start presenting it to 5th and 6th graders in my current job as a storyreader.
The book is filled with language that is skillfully crafted, (thank you Mr. Spiro), and presented in such a beautiful way that it begs to be read aloud!
Please give us more Mr. Vawter---you are a gem!
on September 2, 2015
I am sure I wrote a very positive review of this book when it was first published but now I feel compelled to add another comment from rereading it recently - I bought and read this book when it was first published and reread it again recently from a new copy I bought as a gift and within days listened to the audio version I got from my local library; I don’t have an adequate vocabulary to say how much I enjoyed each of these, reading or listening to this exceptional book. I don’t know what I think is more impressive – the author’s detailed memories of events during his adolescent years or his ability to create the story and dialogue if some of the story was fictional and not from his own real experiences. I choose to believe the great majority and possibly all of the events in the book were from his real life experiences with the dialogue a blend of memory supplemented by very clever writing. I recommend that everyone who can listen to an audio version in order to hear the author’s additional comments in his own voice plus the professional reader who is outstanding in his characterization of the different voices/people in the story but also buy and read the book to have in your personal library.
"Paperboy" is an excellent snapshot of a time gone by. It takes place in Memphis in 1959.
Victor Vollmer III is an eleven-year-old who has been defined by his stuttering problem and during the course of the story learns that he has many more strengths and attributes that overshadow his stuttering. It is an important look at someone who DOES stutter and learns to live with the disability.
It is a tale of the times, of racial tensions. But is also the tale of a young boy learning about himself, making friends, realizing how much he is loved, and standing up for himself and a loved one.
I enjoyed the young voice of the story and how much Victor's character is developed. I loved the character of Mam.
NOTE: This book is advertised for children ten years old and above. I think this age is too low and should be at least thirteen and above. While it is an excellent novel, it does touch on some subjects I wouldn't consider for younger readers.
on January 31, 2016
This is such a great book to read with kids. I loved the life lessons that are in the book. There are so many connections you can make with this story in a reading group or whole class setting. It is great to talk about characters, main idea, theme, inferences, etc. I highly suggest bringing this book into your classroom if you are in one of the upper elementary grades or middle school.