Welcome to the first blogged-about meeting of the Kids Lit group of Mt Lebanon Library! We are grown-ups who meet every other month, when our schedules allow, to discuss children’s literature. The group is moderated by Holly Visnesky, Senior Children’s Librarian. Yesterday we talked about Vince Vawter’s Paperboy.
From the Random House website:
For fans of To Kill a Mockingbird, The King’s Speech, and The Help. A boy who stutters comes-of-age in the segregated South, during the summer that changes his life. An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, he knows he’ll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything. The paper route poses challenges, but it’s a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble–and puts the boy’s life, as well as that of his family’s devoted housekeeper, in danger.
The group take: The majority of our group really enjoyed the book overall, although we disagreed with the comparison to Harper Lee. We also didn’t think it fit into the “kids with disabilities” category, as some other commenters have said, because based on personal experience, one person didn’t think stuttering was a disability. The book has extra space between paragraphs, which apparently symbolizes stuttering. The protagonist Victor is an 11-year-old boy, a loyal friend, and an amazing pitcher for his baseball team. When he asks why he has to be set apart by his stuttering, his newfound friend and mentor Spiro answers with a question by asking, why are you such a great pitcher? Everyone is different. One astute member of our group pointed out that all of us consider our disadvantages but never our advantages. It’s like being reminded to count your blessings. In Victor’s case, his skill eventually saves someone’s life.
I thought Victor was a lovable and adventurous character, but I didn’t understand why he was so distant from his parents. When I asked if that kind of distance was created by the stuttering, the natural difficulty Victor had in expressing his ideas, the other members said that was a normal relationship for 1959. And that certainly rang true in the great descriptions of the “grown-up code,” in which parents say “We’ll talk about it later” when they really mean “We’ll never discuss it again.” Victor is instead close to his Mam, the African-American woman who takes care of him most of the time.
Members of the group suggested that fewer subplots would have improved the book and allowed the space to develop another very interesting character who is only mentioned a couple of times before the end. And yes, we also suggested a character to leave out, based on personal preference. I argued that this book shouldn’t be described as a coming-of-age, but as some other kind of transformative experience. Victor is only 11, he’s not of age at the end of the book. He has many more significant times ahead. But he is profoundly changed by the people he meets, the things that happen to him, and the way that he stands up for himself.
Has anyone else read Paperboy? What did you think?