BookBrowse Reviews Paperboy by Vince Vawter

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


by Vince Vawter

Paperboy by Vince Vawter X
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2013, 240 pages
    Dec 2014, 240 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp

Buy This Book

About this Book



In the racially segregated South of the 1950s, a boy learns to make his way in the adult world, while struggling to overcome a difficult speech disability.

The narrator of Paperboy, by Vince Vawter, avoids telling us his name until the final pages of the novel. He does not withhold his name because he's in hiding, or because he's being coy. It is simply because it is too difficult for him to say, due to a stuttering affliction. Throughout this story set in 1959 Memphis, he refers to himself only as Little Man, a nickname given to him by Mam, the live-in housekeeper in his white household.

He has an important story to tell, one he's still making sense of. He's been through a summer of growth and change. He's seen new things and gained insights and understanding of the world around him. Little Man needs to type out his story, for, as he explains, "I need to see the words on paper to make sure everything happened the way my brain remembers it. I trust words on paper a lot more than words in the air." Written in short blocks of text, devoid of commas and excess punctuation, the text mimics Little Man's way of speaking. He is a careful narrator, one who has to focus precisely on what he wants to say.

Little Man is an excellent baseball player, with a powerful arm for pitching. When he busts his best friend's lip with a hard throw, he feels guilty and as a kind of penance, offers to cover Art's paper route while he's gone for the summer. He doesn't anticipate any trouble navigating the route and is looking forward to throwing the papers, but Little Man knows collecting money at the end of the week is going to challenge his ability to communicate clearly.

Readers will feel Little Man's burden as he makes his way through the neighborhood. He's bright and curious and would love to interact more fully with the world, but every encounter requires strategic planning. Every time he opens his mouth, he must plan how to express himself while avoiding the words that give him extra trouble. One of the speaking strategies he's been taught is a trick he calls "Gentle Air." This requires him to "sneak up" on a word by making a hissing noise first.

Throughout the book Little Man's words are interspersed with "s-s-s-s." For instance, when talking to Mam early on in the story, he says, "s-s-s-s-Do you ever have a s-s-s-s feeling that something bad is s-s-s-s-going to happen?" He's willing to try this "hissing" trick because, "When you're eleven years old it's better to be called a snake than a retard." It's an interesting choice by the author to use this signal as opposed to the perhaps more expected mirroring of what his stutter might actually sound like. It is somewhat distracting and slows the story down, but that's the point. His stutter slows him down and distracts others from hearing what he has to say.

Mam has warned Little Man to stay away from the local junkman, Ara T, but inevitably their paths do cross. Throughout the story, Ara T shuffles and wanders through the background, ultimately revealing an ominous darker side of the world that Little Man had not known. Besides a growing awareness of the strife looming in the background between Mam and Ara T, Little Man's encounters with his white customers also contribute to his maturing and awakening. Although these interactions are quiet moments, they ultimately help Little Man make sense of the surprising truths he discovers.

Although alluded to from the first page of the book, a sudden act of violence stands out in shocking contrast to the steady and quiet tone of the rest of this book. But that's often how acts of violence are. Perhaps we cannot—and should not—be prepared for something so dark and sinister appearing from the shadows.

There are layers of appeal to this story. Younger, less experienced readers may find a growing awareness along with Little Man as he slowly realizes the inequities of his world; while older readers may be quicker to see the prejudice that looms in the background, not quite in Little Man's line of vision yet. He had not previously considered the disparate situation between the privileged life of his white family with that of the "colored junkmen who push their carts around," or, even with his beloved Mam, who he trusts more than his own mother.

Although Paperboy is appropriate for readers age ten and up, I think this novel will appeal to many adult readers looking for a reminder of the moment when one begins to see the world through a wider lens.

Reviewed by Sarah Tomp

This review was originally published in June 2013, and has been updated for the December 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  A Peek Into Stuttering

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: In Extremis
    In Extremis
    by Lindsey Hilsum
    International journalist Marie Colvin pushed the limits in her work and her personal life. Widely ...
  • Book Jacket: Vita Nostra
    Vita Nostra
    by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
    Vita Nostra by Ukrainian authors Sergey and Marina Dyachenko is one of those novels that defies ...
  • Book Jacket: And The Ocean Was Our Sky
    And The Ocean Was Our Sky
    by Patrick Ness
    Patrick Ness has developed a reputation for experimental literature executed well, and his latest, ...
  • Book Jacket: Let It Bang
    Let It Bang
    by RJ Young
    Every interracial love story is an exercise in complications. R.J. Young and Lizzie Stafford's ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
by Barbara Kingsolver

A timely novel that explores the human capacity for resiliency and compassion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Ladder to the Sky
    by John Boyne

    A seductive, unputdownable psychodrama following one brilliant, ruthless man.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Kinship of Secrets
    by Eugenia Kim

    Two sisters grow up bound by family but separated by war; inspired by a true story.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Severance

Severance by Ling Ma

An offbeat, wryly funny, apocalyptic satire that is featured on more than twenty 2018 "Must Read" lists!


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Ain't O U T F L S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.