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TWO stars for PAPERBOY!

May 07, 2013

It’s hot in Memphis during the summer of 1959—in all kinds of ways. Things heat up for the book’s 11- year-old narrator when he takes over his pal Rat’s paper route; meeting new people is a horror for the boy because he stutters. He only really feels comfortable with Rat and Mam, the African American maid who takes care of him when his parents are away, which is often. But being the paper boy forces him to engage in the world, to ask for payments from customers like pretty, hard-drinking Mrs. Worthington, and Mr. Spiro, who gives the boy the confidence to voice his questions and then offers answers that—wondrously—elicit more questions. Others intrude on his life as well. Ara T, the dangerous, disturbing junk man, in a shocking scene, tries to take something precious from the boy. In some ways, the story is a set piece, albeit a very good one: the well-crafted characters, the hot Southern summer, and the coming-of-age events are reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird. But this has added dimension in the way it brilliantly gets readers inside the head of a boy who stutters. First-time author Vawter has lived this story, and so is able to write movingly about what it’s like to have words exploding in your head with no reasonable exit. This paper boy is a fighter and his hope fortifies and satisfies in equal measure. – Booklist

★ The name of debut novelist Vawter’s 11-year-old protagonist, Vincent Vollmer III, doesn’t appear until the very end of this tense, memorable story—Vincent’s stutter prevents him from pronouncing it. Vincent is an excellent listener and a keen observer, and the summer of 1959 presents him with the challenge of taking over a friend’s paper route in segregated Memphis. He engages with several neighborhood customers and characters while on the job, gaining new awareness of varied adult worlds, racial tension, and inequality, as well as getting into some dangerous situations. Vawter draws from his own childhood experience at a time “when modern speech therapy techniques were in their infancy,” he writes in an endnote, calling the story “more memoir than fiction.” The story unfolds as Vincent’s typewritten account of the summer, and inventive syntax is used throughout. Commas and quotation marks are verboten—Vincent isn’t a fan of the former, since he has enough extra pauses in his life already—and extra spaces appear between paragraphs, all subtly highlighting his uneasy relationship with the spoken word.  – Publishers Weekly