Paperboy is the first book written by Vince Vawter. It was published last year, and it’s been on Amazon’s top seller list ever since. I had a hard time getting a copy from my library because it was requested by lots of people, which raised my curiosity! When Liam saw the book, he was hoping to read it, so I pushed it to the top of my list of books to review.
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Paperboy is set in Memphis in 1959. It tells the story of the summer an 11-year-old boy with a stuttering problem takes over his friend’s paper route. The boy gets to know the various people on the paper route, and he learns that everyone has their own struggle. It is a well-written, empathetic look at what it feels like to have a speech impediment.
On a personal note, our ten-year-old may not be reading this one yet. Not because of any moral reasons, but I feel that the topics covered are just a little beyond his emotional intelligence at the moment.
The message of Paperboy is we all have struggles and hardships – some are just more obvious than others.
Parents should be advised that Paperboy has a few hard questions about God. It references the racial tension of the 50’s in the South. There are a few references to people being “colored,” and a boy calls a woman a “bad word” that starts with N. There are a few cuss words, references to adults using tobacco and drinking, and one woman has a drinking problem. There is violence, domestic abuse, and a stabbing that take place. The boy finds out that the man that is married to his mother is not his father. There are very subtle hints that the boy is beginning to notice a beautiful woman.
My Mom-Meter gives Paperboy an overall safety rating of 3 (Caution) for ages 10 and up.
The Lexile rating for Paperboy is 940L.
Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):
Thriving Family has a pretty good plot summary of Paperboy here.
We learn the main character’s name at the end of the story, and it is strikingly similar to the author’s name. In the Author’s Note at the end of the book, you learn that Vince Vawter has struggled with stuttering all his life, and is involved in raising awareness of the disability. I was interested to read this statement “Paperboy is my story, then, certainly more memoir than fiction.”
- Mrs. Worthington has a man at her home that is not her husband. He says that he is her cousin, but Victor could tell that he was lying. “When grown-ups lie to kids they don’t even try very hard. They think we’re too dumb to know the difference.” You might want to talk with your kids about infidelity and/or why adults lie to children.
- “If the way I talked was confusing for me it was bound to be confusing listening to me. But not one time had a grown-up except for Mam and my speech teacher talked to me about my stuttering. It’s like I walked into a room with an organ-grinder’s monkey sitting on my head and everyone pretending the monkey wasn’t there.” Victor’s stuttering was a real struggle for him, but very few people talked to him about it. You might want to talk to your kids about how to interact with people who have disabilities.
- When Victor asked Mam why he stuttered, “she said it was God’s plan. That didn’t make any sense to me because a god who would play dirty tricks on a kid like that didn’t know very much about being a god.” You might want to talk with your child about what your family believes about God, and why bad things sometimes happen to little kids.
- Victor hears breaking glass and furniture, and it is implied that Mr. Worthington was beating Mrs. Worthington. Later, Victor sees a bruise under her makeup. You might want to talk with your child about domestic violence and abuse.
- Victor asks Mam “What do people feel like when they’re drunk?” You might want to talk frankly with your child about alcohol, how it affects people, and what your family believes about alcohol consumption.
- Victor finds out that the man married to his mother, who he has always believed is his father, is not his father. His parents did not tell him this. He found out secretly. You might want to talk with your child about that situation. How did it make Victor feel? Why do you think his mother had not told him the truth? Why do you think his father is “Unknown?” Do you think that the man who has raised Victor must love him very much to treat him as his son?
- Victor tried pushing a thumbtack into his hand during class to distract him from stuttering, but he learned that “You can’t replace one hurt with another one. You just end up with double hurts.” That truth can apply to more than Victor’s situation. Have you ever tried to distract yourself from one kind of pain with another? Did it help?
- There are a few references to different people being “colored,” including Mam. When Victor rides the bus with Mam, she can ride in the front of the bus because he is white and she is taking care of him, but if she was not with him, she would have to ride in the back of the bus. Mam says “Rules is rules. Don’t mean they don’t need changing but best to abide by them till they is changed.” There are many small references to the racial tensions of the 1950’s. You might want to talk with your kids about civil rights and racism.
- Victor used to pray every night that God would take away his stuttering, but God did not answer his prayer, so he gave up on God helping him. You might want to talk to your kids about what your family believes about prayer. Why does God answer some prayers and not others?
- A boy takes Victor’s papers, which makes Victor really mad. He picks up a rock to throw at the boy’s head, and could have really hurt him, but Victor decides not to throw the rock. You might want to talk about what the consequences could have been if Victor had thrown the rock, since he was such a good pitcher. Self-control is very important, but especially for those who have power. Victor might have killed or seriously injured the boy in anger.
- At the end of the book, Victor realizes “It’s more important what I say than how I say it.” Do you agree with Victor?
- Whiskey is mentioned several times.
- A junkman uses “Bugler tobacco” and makes it into cigarettes. There are many references to his cigarettes.
- Mrs. Worthington passes out after drinking too much whiskey twice in front of Victor.
- Mr. Worthington tells Mrs. Worthington to get her “drunk ass” upstairs and calls her a “sot drunk.”
- Victor asks Mam “What do people feel like when they’re drunk?” Mam says it “puts the devil in them.”
- A junkman goes through people’s trash and always looks for whiskey in the tossed out bottles.
- Victor’s parents and their friends drink wine and smoke cigarettes at dinner. One of the women was “too dumb to know how to use a Zippo.”
- Victor’s mother told him that she quit smoking, but he sees her sneak away to smoke and he can smell the smoke on her clothes. He doesn’t understand why she hides it. His father also smokes cigarettes, but doesn’t hide it.
- Mrs. Worthington invited Victor into her house while she is drunk. She passes out and starts snoring.
- When the newspaper truck is late on a hot day, one of the boys teases the driver and asks if he stopped for “a cold one.”
- Mam dips snuff once in front of Victor.
- Mam and Victor pass a store “full of whiskey bottles.”
- It is mentioned that there is a photo of a baseball player with a cigar.
- Big Sack asks for a bottle of gin, and uses it to clean Ara T’s wound.
- There is one reference to “shootin’ dice.”
- Victor says that Vienna Sausages look like “dog turds,” and soon his classmates are calling them that.
- “Bitch” is used three times. Mrs. Worthington thinks Victor called her that, when really he was practicing one of his hard words: pitch. Ara T calls Mam that name once.
- “Stupid” is used once.
- “Dumb” is used twice.
- “Ass” is used once when Mr. Worthington is beating Mrs. Worthington, and a second time when Ara T calls Mam’s brother a “skinny-ass.”
- “Retard” is used twice.
- Rat says “when the hell” once.
- Mam knew an old man who could “tell the future.” He used animal bones, and he predicted her brother’s death.
- Mam talks about the devil and God a lot. She says that the devil is inside people, and calls “Juke Joints” a place “where the choirs of the devil sing.”
- Victor and Rat almost went to a hypnotist’s tent at the carnival to see if he could cure Victor’s stuttering, but they were scared he might accidentally turn Victor into a dog.
- Rat misheard the phrase “wicker furniture” and calls it “Wicked furniture.”
- Mam says she feels “Haints.” “Mam talked about her Haints when she had a strong feeling that something wasn’t right. Mam said that Haints were like ghosts. You couldn’t see them but you knew they were there just the same.” Haints are mentioned several times.
- The “Hounds of Hell” are referenced twice.
- Victor hides the truth from Mam and his parents, and lies several times.
- When Victor wants a picture with Mam, he lies to the photographer and tells him a sob story so that the photographer will take a photo even though she is a black woman.
- Mam tells Victor that they won’t call the police because “her people cleaned up their own mess and didn’t depend on white people and their police.”
Potentially Offensive Behavior:
- Someone is described as “fat” once.
- “Retard” is used twice.
- There are a few references to people being “colored.”
- The phrase “Tight as Dick’s hatband” is referenced once. I have no idea what it means. Google had some answers, but nothing satisfactory.
- When Victor first meets Mrs. Worthington, her housedress will not stay closed. He thinks about her a lot. He sees her in a green dress that looks really good on her, and he wishes he could see her wear it again.
- Mrs. Worthington has a man at her home that is not her husband. He says that he is her cousin, but Victor could tell that he was lying.
- Victor sees his birth certificate and notices that his father was marked as “Unknown.” He struggles with this secret until almost the end of the book.
- Victor and his father go to see a Western movie called Shane. In it, the main character is clearly in love with a married woman. He does the honorable thing and sacrifices so that she and her family can live in peace. Victor thinks about this.
- Rat starts “dating” a girl or “Going With Her.” He thinks she’s a “Hot Tamale,” starts answering to Art, and grows his hair because she wants him to.
- All the scary themes are the same as the violent scenes below.
- Victor has a yellow jackknife that needs sharpening to cut through string. It is later used in a stabbing.
- It is mentioned that Mam’s brother had drowned years ago.
- Victor hears a fight between the Worthingtons. There is breaking glass and harsh words. Later, Victor sees a bruise under Mrs. Worthington’s makeup.
- Victor’s dad has shotguns for hunting. It is mentioned that they are locked up. When Victor turns 13, his father has promised to buy him a shotgun and take him hunting.
- There is a passing reference to suicide. “A moth would be committing suicide if it came near our house.”
- After an unusual absence, Mam shows up after she had clearly been beaten up by someone. You learn later in the story that the junkman who killed her brother had beat her up.
- When Victor hides in Ara T’s shed, looking for his jackknife, he gets trapped and hits Ara T with a shovel to escape.
- A boy takes Victor’s papers, which makes Victor really made. He picks up a rock to throw at the boy’s head, and could have really hurt him, but Victor decides not to throw the rock.
- Victor has a picture taken with Mam with “fake six-shooters.”
- Mam jokingly threatens to “whup” him, even though she would never spank him.
- Ara T holds Mam up against the wall, choking her. He says “I’m killin’ this bitch this time… Just likes I killed your skinny-ass brother.”
- Victor throws a bottle at Ara T’s head, distracting him from killing Mam. Ara T then starts choking Victor and says “Looks like I’m gonna breaks me a white boy’s neck now.”
- Mam uses Victor’s jackknife to stab Ara T in both arms. She doesn’t kill him.
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