Because the 11-year-old stuttering narrator of Vince Vawter’s debut novel, Paperboy, finds it too difficult to speak, he tells his story by pounding away at the keys of his father’s forgotten typewriter. Taking is so difficult, in fact, that the paperboy doesn’t even reveal his name until the story’s conclusion.
In the summer of 1959 in Memphis, the local baseball champ and budding writer takes over the neighborhood paper route while his best friend Rat (a nickname that’s easier to say than Art) goes on vacation. The substitute paperboy quickly takes an interest in the lonely, beautiful, redheaded Mrs. Worthington, who also has a penchant for afternoon whiskey, and wise Mr. Spiro, who understands both the boy’s speech impediment and his insatiable curiosity.
Although quiet with little action, this achingly beautiful, autobiographical story involves intense emotions as it shows that children can—and do—handle heavy issues. Perhaps the most painful subject for the boy is watching the racial injustice endured by his stern but loving African-American housekeeper, Mam. The story intensifies when a local vagabond raids the paperboy’s possessions and Mam must rectify the situation.
The end of summer and the paper route bring disappointment both for the boy and for readers, who grow to love the narrator as he finds his voice in a world that values constant, hurried speech. An author’s note adds information on stuttering and suggests resources for further reading.
Three cheers, or perhaps applause is more appropriate, for this fine addition to Southern storytelling that will appeal to children and adults alike.
Read our interview with Vince Vawter for Paperboy.