Monday, June 27, 2016

Middle Grade Audiobook Review: Paperboy


Title: Paperboy
Author: Vince Vawter; read by Lincoln Hoppe
Publisher: Random House/Listening Library, 2013. 240 pages in hardcover.
Source: Library (digital resources)

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Review:
Paperboy is a good story, though at times it feels like it's taking on too much--coming of age and stuttering might be enough without the segregation issues. But that's the life the lead character gets (and, I gather from the Author's Note at the end, the life the author got), and the story doesn't try to resolve it all. In fact, about the only thing clearly resolved is that the main character--known as "Little Man" until the final pages where he at last manages to speak his own name--does some serious growing up, as is wont to be the case around age 12.

Most of the characters in this book, aside from the narrator himself, are a little flat. That, I think, is the result of the first person narrator. Adults have little reality for a kid, beyond what intersects with the kid. The ones that matter get just enough development for an attentive (and probably adult) reader to know more of what's going on than Little Man does.

This isn't a story about a disability or bullying, though both are here. It's a coming-of-age story that happens to center on a kid with a bit more to cope with than the average 12-year-old, and I found it both exciting at times (there are some perilous moments) and in general a well-tuned evocation of a time and place and age.

I'd say this is probably for 10 or 11 and up, due to a few situations that might take some explaining to younger kids. It's also a good  read for anyone who wants to feel what a Memphis summer was like in 1959. The author evokes the setting well enough that I found myself longing for the AC at times while listening--and temps at my house seldom topped 70!

FTC Disclosure: I checked Paperboy out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."   

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Friday, June 24, 2016

#Flashback Friday


I recently (thanks, Jemima Pett!) stumbled on the Flashback Friday blog hop run by Michael G D'Agostino, and couldn't help thinking it would be a great help during the summer when I'm often on the road--or the trail--and can't post in the usual way. This is one of those weeks, plus Chuck didn't give us a prompt this week, so I've crawled around in the archives and hauled up and old story. A little dusting off, and here we go. From 11/31/2013:

The Cat Did It

Now, I’m not saying the cat was plotting to kill me.  But.

It started with football practice.  I’m not really supposed to be there anyway, since no one thinks a girl should play football.  Mom says nobody should play football, and she was only letting me play as long as it was flag football.  That gave me one more year.  After that, the only options were to convince her I could play tackle ball or quit.  Maybe I could find a rugby team.  Bet Mom would love that!

But at practice last week, we were horsing around, tackling each other and wrestling and stuff, only I looked around and saw my cat.  He was just sitting on the sidelines watching us, but he wasn’t supposed to be there at all.  He’s supposed to stay in the house.  He raised a hind leg to wash his backside, and I started to turn toward him.  I meant to catch him and take him home so he wouldn’t get hit by a car.  I mean, I was trying to keep him safe, even though I don’t really like him.  But just as I turned, Jakob hit me.

I was all off balance and twisted up, so I fell and hurt my ankle.  By the time I finished yelling at Jakob, Boswell—that’s what Mom named the cat—was gone.  And Coach said my ankle might be sprained and he called Mom to take me to the doctor.  She had to leave work early and she chewed me out all the way to the hospital.

That finished my season, probably the last season of football I’d ever get to play, and I missed the last two weeks.  I was stuck with a taped-up ankle and a pair of crutches mostly good for whacking people.  Jakob was off the team for hurting me, too.  I thought that was pretty unfair, since he hadn’t meant to hurt me, and I’d actually started the rough-housing.  But I didn’t feel as bad about him as I did about me, because Mom said I wasn’t playing any more blood sports, whatever she meant by that.  She said I should learn to play tennis.  Tennis!  No way am I putting on one of those silly short skirts.

Then the cat started in.  Mom says poor Boswell just wants attention, but why does he have to come looking for it when I’m on the stairs?  He’d come and rub around my foot and my crutches, and Mom said he was just being a cat, and I needed to be careful.

I’ve always suspected him of wanting to do away with us all, if only he could figure out the can opener.  And yesterday he scored again.  I was pretty sure he’d managed to get my ankle sprained.  He probably had hoped I’d break my neck, but I’m pretty tough.  Anyway, it was definitely his fault I was hurt, sneaking out and over to the practice field and all. 

But yesterday morning he got down to it and started really playing dirty.  He’d figured out that I wouldn’t start down the stairs if he was anywhere around, so he held off his attack until I was already halfway down.

Lucky for me, he waited a little too long.  I was only three steps from the bottom when he came out of Mom and Dad’s room like a furry lightning bolt, and flew down the stairs right into my left crutch, just as I was making the move from the third step to the second.

Boswell knocked that crutch out from under me, and bang!  Down I went.  Then he walked up to me where I was lying on the floor yelling, and gave me an evil look.  He said one loud “Meow!” then sat down and licked his butt in the most insulting way.  He stalked off when Mom came running.

Of course, Mom didn’t believe me when I said Boswell had done it on purpose.  She told me to be more careful, and brought me an ice pack for where I’d bumped my head, and another for my ankle because it was time to ice it again anyway.

Then she left me on the sofa and went off to work.  As soon as she was gone, Boswell padded back in and sat on his haunches and just looked at me.  I knew what he was thinking.  At one point he tried to dash up and lick my face.  I mean, ewwww!  I’d just seen what he used that tongue for!  I got my hands up just in time and shoved him away, pretty hard.

Every time I got up to go get a snack or pee or anything, he was right there underfoot.  Mom says he felt bad for hurting me and rubbing up against me was his way of showing his love, but I know better.  Cats don’t do remorse, and they love food, not people.

I’ve taken to whacking him some with my crutch, so he’ll stay away.  Mom got mad when she saw me do it, but I’ve taught Boswell I’m not going to go without a fight.    I’m just afraid he’ll manage to get into my room while I’m asleep.  He could smother me in my sleep and I’d never know it.  He’s always tried to sleep on my face. 

I know he’s plotting to kill me, and I know why.

I’m just a practice run.  He and his cronies—I hear them all yowling about it at night, when Mom thinks he’s safely in his basket behind the dryer—are plotting to take over the world.  I saw Boswell with three neighbor cats yesterday.  They didn’t see me looking out the window—I stayed out of sight behind the curtain.  But I saw them, and I know what they’re up to.

I’ve seen it.  The cat is plotting to kill me, and anyone else who won’t become the willing slave of catdom.  I’m guessing they’ll keep Mom around to run the can opener.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2013
Oh, they look so innocent!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Musings on reading Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith


Title: Wintersmith
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: HarperTempest, 2006. 323 pages.
Source: Library

I don't have the gall to review Terry Pratchett. But I'm happy to share the musings I've had while reading Wintersmith, the 3rd of the Tiffany Aching books. I'm happy to find there is one more. I shall savor the pleasure.

I am a huge fan of Pratchett and his Discworld, and like to think about how he does it, whatever "it" may be. Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts engendered by Wintersmith.

1. Third Thoughts. Pratchett proved his genius when he came up with this one. We all know what Second Thoughts are. I'm going to eat a quart of ice cream. No, on second thoughts, that might not be a good idea. Third Thoughts stand outside the head and study it all, and probably argue with the first and second thoughts. Not everyone gets to have them, but I'm thinking that for a writer, Third Thoughts are the editor that can actually decide that the lovely passage I just wrote has got to go. Third Thoughts will tell me so, probably profanely.

2. Pratchett doesn't write kids books for kids. Some claim Tiffany Aching is for kids. After all, the protagonist is 9 in Wee Free Men, 11 in A Hat Full of Sky, and turned 13 halfway through Wintersmith. And she's even having some teenaged problems. Boy trouble. But no, this book isn't aimed at children, though teens could learn a lot from it. I can relate to this, too. The Ninja Librarian is about 1/2 a kids book, and I'm not kidding when I say it's for "10-year-olds of all ages."

3. Okay, I didn't see that ending coming. I should have, but I didn't. Is that me being dense, or is that the perfection of a great ending, that once you've read it, it seems inevitable, even though you couldn't have thought it up yourself in a month of Sundays?

4. I've looked and thought a lot lately about writing dialects and accents. Pratchett seems to pull it off marvelously, and he does it with vocabulary (though the Mac Nac Feegle need a little glossary for some of their vocabulary), not spelling. I will take lessons.

5. I want to grow up to be one of the Discworld witches. Somewhere between Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Which leads me to....

6. I never knew anyone (well, maybe I do) who can jam as many improper ideas and implications into language that will pass any censor. You don't have to write a single 4-letter word to get the ideas across.

That's enough rambling for now. If you've never read any of Terry Pratchett's books, run right out and start. I'm not sure where you should start; most people agree that the first book (The Color of Magic) isn't his best, though it was good enough to capture me. My favorites might be the ones about the witches, like Equal Rites, but I'm awfully fond of the Watch, too. And the sorcerers are good for a laugh...


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