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The Beet Fields: Memories of a Sixteenth…

The Beet Fields: Memories of a Sixteenth Summer

by Gary Paulsen

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Known only in the book as “the boy,” a 16-year-old escapes his broken home and drunken parents to survive on his own. He starts out as a migrant worker laboring in beet fields alongside the more adept Mexicans. A farmer later hires him to drive a tractor to work his fields. After being arrested by the sheriff for being a suspected runaway, the boy escapes and ends up hitching a ride with an older woman who takes him in for awhile and has him help repair machinery. Next he joins a traveling carnival where he helps set up rides, rounds up audiences for the acts, and learns the way of the carny. It is also there that he loses his virginity to Ruby, the exotic dancer and wife of the carnival owner. Raw and graphic, but honest all the way through.
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
Based on Paulsens real life experiences as a migrant worker and carny after running away from home at the age of 16. ( )
  lilibrarian | Oct 3, 2011 |
Ilene Cooper (Booklist, July 2000 (Vol. 96, No. 21))
He's known only as "the boy." Readers meet him twisting away from his drunken mother as she crawls into his bed and follow until he enlists in the army. In between is the ultimate coming-of-age story, told in language that is as clean as bleached bones. But beneath the quiet, direct telling there is every earthy emotion--hunger, exhaustion, fear, passion. After his mother's drunken attempt, the boy runs away and finds work in a beet field, hard, backbreaking work. Mexican migrant workers share their food and teach him about responsibility to the group: he climbs to the rafters and wrings the necks of pigeons so he can add to the cooking pot. He leaves the beet fields when he spies a girl named Lynette, but he never sees her again. He's picked up as a runaway by a deputy who steals his money, then hitchhikes with a man who is killed when a bird flies into the car's windshield. A woman who has lost her son befriends him, but he leaves her to join the carnival--where he sets up and breaks down, shills for the geek who bites the heads off chickens, and has his first sexual experience with Ruby, the carnival's exotic dancer, who helps him learn what it's like to please a woman. Paulsen has visited some of this personal material before, but showed it in a softer light. This time the story is gritty and unblinking. If this were just an uncompromising look at a boy's sixteenth summer, it would be involving. It's Paulsen's ability to put readers behind the boy's eyes--so they can feel what's going on as well as see it--that makes this novel exceptional and so heartbreakingly real. Category: Older Readers. 2000, Delacorte, $15.95. Gr. 9-12. Starred Review.
1 vote | connieh1433 | Sep 24, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440415578, Mass Market Paperback)

The striking cover picture of a beautiful young man's bare, muscular back foreshadows the sensuality of this brilliant autobiographical novel for older boys by the author of Hatchet and Soldier's Heart. In this remarkable book, Gary Paulsen reworks material from his own life that has appeared earlier in his novels, to tell--with simple words and Hemingwayesque cadences--the story of a summer when a 16-year-old boy became a man.

Fleeing his mother's confusing drunken advances, a boy runs away and finds work in the beet fields of North Dakota. Wielding a hoe for long, hot days, he learns about cruelty from the farmer's wife and about kindness from his Mexican coworkers. Later an attraction to a girl glimpsed only once leads him into accepting a job driving a tractor, but a brush with the deputy sheriff sends him running again, only to be taken in by a sleazy carnival as a roustabout. He learns to shill for the geek, a fake wild man of Borneo who bites the heads off chickens, and yearns for Ruby, the voluptuous hootchy-kootchy dancer. During the summer the boy learns about life and people and his own ability to work and survive, and when Ruby invites him into her bed, his transition to manhood is complete.

While the sensual scenes and occasionally gritty language may make this novel problematic for adults, there is not a 15-year-old boy around who would not find that this poetic, powerful novel speaks to his soul. (Ages 14 and older) --Patty Campbell

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:28 -0400)

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The author recalls his experiences as a migrant laborer and carnival worker after he ran away from home at age sixteen.

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