01 May 2014

Maniac Magee: 1991 Newbery Medal Winner

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book.  A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!

Maniac Magee cover.jpg
Cover of the book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause

Jeffery Lionel Magee: The Boy With No Home

"But that's okay, because the history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend and three parts snowball."

Orphaned and homeless, Jeffery Magee runs to Two Mills, Pennsylvania in search of something.  The town, divided in half by race into African-American East End and Caucasian West End, doesn't know what to make of the twelve-year-old boy, who seems at home with both the Pickwells, a white family, and the Beales, a black family because he is unaware of the racial tensions that surround the town.  Thus, stories are started about him, all based in fact, but capitulated into myths as the stories grow and he is soon given the name Maniac. He is also scorned by some, and makes enemies of Mars Bars Thompson, a African American youth who is the "big cat" in the East End neighborhood, as well as John McNab, a white teen-aged bigot and bully.  But he also has friends in Amanda Beale, a black youngster with a love of reading, and Grayson, the elderly and illiterate white groundskeeper.  Maniac is born of local legend, but was really an ordinary homeless boy longing for a home and a family to call his own.

Maniac Magee was written in 1990 by Jerry Spinelli, an author whose works I happen to love reading.   While it is not specifically stated, this is a historical novel and takes place in the 1950s or early 1960s in Eastern Pennsylvania.  The book focuses on racism and one young boy's reaction to it in a way that is unique.  Maniac, having not realized that he is supposed to be different, embraces everyone in the town as a friend if they treat him right. He also teaches others to do the same, starting with Grayson and Amanda Beale.

I was reminded a bit of the character of Huckleberry Finn from Mark Twain's books as I read this story.  Like Huck, Maniac is searching for his place in the world and is an outsider in the world.  Like Huck, Maniac also doesn't understand the implications of racism as others think he should.  Also like Huck, Maniac moves from place to place, seemingly homeless.  The difference between the two characters, however, is that Maniac would rather have a home than live on his own.

This was a well written book, and I enjoyed it very much.  It was enjoyable reading about the stories surrounding Maniac that became legends and what is hinted to have happened to the town as a result of those legends. 

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