Monday, February 17, 2014

Paper Trail: Paperboy by Vince Vawter

I'm typing about the stabbing for a good reason.

I can't talk.

Not without stuttering.

The funny way I talk is not so much like fat pigs in cartoons. Sometimes I turn red in the face and lose my breath and get dizzy circles going around in my head.

Otherwise, life is not too bad in Memphis in the summer of 1959. It's hot, but it's baseball season, and throwing his fast ball and winning games doesn't involve talking. And his best friend Rat has given him his newspaper route while he's away at the family farm, so he's officially a substitute paperboy.

His parents, busy with their own lives, think it's a good idea, and he's not worried about throwing the paper to just the right place. He's good at that. He's worried about collecting from his customers every Friday night. What if he can't say the words?

He has another problem. His parents and their maid Mam have warned him to stay away from Ara T., the itinerant junk man who pushes his cart up the alleys nearby. But Ara T. is known as an ace knife sharpener, and the boy's knife is so dull that even Mam says it won't cut hot butter. A good newspaper boy needs a sharp knife to cut the twine around his daily bundle, so he takes a chance and asks Ara T. to sharpen it. And that is beginning to look like a very bad idea.

But there are two good things about collecting. One is the boozy but beautiful Mrs. Worthington, who gives him lemonade and calls him "Sweetie." The other is Mr. Spiro, a retired merchant sailor whose house is as stacked full of books as his brain is filled with information, calls him "Messenger," and gives him a piece of a dollar bill each week with one cryptic word inked along the side.

But when Ara T. steals the saved paper route money that he is supposed to share with Rat right out of his room, the boy has to tell someone. He tells Mam. Mam's face goes cold.

Mam untied her head in and jerked the window down so hard that the weights on the ropes banged inside the wall.

Mam untied her apron while she walked down the hall. It was the first time I had ever seen it not hanging in its place on the back of the pantry door. She may have been walking but I had to run to catch up with her.

Even more strange than where she put her apron was seeing her leave the house in her white uniform without her little round black hat.

I can't leave you here, Little Man. You get right on up to Mr. Rat's house and wait for me there.

I didn't move or say anything at first.

When I came to the corner to turn onto Rat's street, I saw Mam was almost to Ara T.'s alley. A new plan came to me.

Something important happened that summer of the paper route in Vince Vawter's 2014 Newbery-winning book, Paperboy (Delacorte Press, 2013), in which Little Man changes into a boy who can bravely say his name and stand up to defend someone who loves him. In spare prose, with unusual characters, Vawter's character begins to change from a anxious child to a young man who understands much more about the world around him, someone who also is beginning to understand himself, a seventh grader who can introduce himself out loud.

My... name... is Victor... Vollmer... the Third. I stutter... when... I talk ... but I... like ... words...anyway. I... also...

As Booklist writes, “The well-crafted characters, the hot Southern summer, and the coming-of-age events are reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird… This paper boy is a fighter and his hope fortifies and satisfies in equal measure.”

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