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The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine

The Paper Cowboy

by Kristin Levine

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Tommy is an impulsive bully. As the story goes along, he works hard to redeem himself and readers see how his life is much more complicated than it appears to his classmates. Set in Downers Grove, Illinois, during the Red Scare, Tommy initially picks up a copy of The Daily Worker during a paper drive and plants it at a local store, an act which has huge consequences for the man who owns the business. Tommy's family life is no picnic. His mom is dealing with some mental health issues that lead to erratic behavior and abuse. His sister is hospitalized for a serious burn.
As the story unfolds, readers watch Tommy take on many responsibilities and reach out to build connections to neighbors, which in turns help build himself.
An enjoyable story with heartfelt depth. ( )
  ewyatt | Jan 18, 2016 |
Tommy the school bully, realizes that life isn't easy as the bully and learns to change his ways as his life falls apart around him.
  lindamamak | May 4, 2015 |
This is a tough one- the protagonist is a bully with a difficult home life (child abuse, mental illness). But there is love there too. It is very layered and the characters are very nuanced. It takes place in the 1950s when McCarthyism was very much in the news. Author Kristin Levine does not shy away from difficult topics without overwhelming. Outstanding. ( )
  geraldinefm | Mar 7, 2015 |
In the seemingly idyllic, 1950s, town of Downers Grove, Illinois, handsome and popular 12-year-old Tommy Roberts appears to be a typical kid. He lives with his parents, older sister Mary Lou, younger sisters Pinky and Susie, and a devoted family dog. He and his older sister attend Catholic school, his father works for Western Electric, and his mother stays at home with the younger girls.

Amidst the backdrop of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, Tommy's discovery of a Communist newspaper in the town's paper drive truck, and a horrific burn accident to Mary Lou, begin a chain of events that uncovers secrets, truths, and lies in his small town populated with many Eastern European immigrants.

Perhaps the biggest lie is Tommy's own life. Though he never gets caught, Tommy is a bully, picking on kids at school, especially Little Skinny. When he plants the Communist newspaper in a store owned by Little Skinny's immigrant father, he's gone too far - and he knows it. Now it's time to act like his cowboy hero, The Lone Ranger, and make everything right, but where can he turn for help? His mother is "moody" and beats him relentlessly while his father turns a blind eye. His older sister will be hospitalized for months. He has his chores and schoolwork to do, and Mary Lou's paper route, and if Mom's in a mood, he's caretaker for Pinky and Susie as well.

It's hard to understand a bully, even harder to like one, but readers will come to understand Tommy and root for redemption for him and his family. He will find help where he least expects it.

" I couldn't tell Mrs. Glazov about the dinner party. Or planting the paper. But maybe I could tell her about taking the candy. Maybe that would help. "There's this boy at school, I said slowly, "Little Skinny."

"I didn't like him. I don't like him. Sometimes, Eddie and I and the choirboys, we tease him."
"Ahh," she said again. "He laugh too?"
I shook my head. I knew what Mary Lou would say. Shame on you, Tommy! Picking on that poor boy. And now she would have scars just like him. How would I feel if someone picked on her?
"What did you do?" Mrs. Glazov asked, her voice soft, like a priest at confession. It surprised me. I'd never heard her sound so gentle.
"I took some candy from him," I admitted.
"You stole it."
I shrugged.
"It's not my fault! If Mary Lou had been there, I never would have done it!"
Mrs. Glazov laughed. "You don't need sister. You need conscience."
I had the horrible feeling that she was right. I wasn't a cowboy at all. I was an outlaw. "

Author Kristin Levine gives credit to her father and many 1950s residents of Downers Grove who shared their personal stories with her for The Paper Cowboy. Armed with their honesty and openness, she has crafted an intensely personal story that accurately reflects the mores of the 1950s. We seldom have the opportunity (or the desire) to know everything that goes on behind the doors of our neighbors' houses. Levine opens the doors of Downers Grove to reveal alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, disease, sorrow, and loneliness. It is this stark realism that makes the conclusion so satisfying. This is not a breezy read with a tidy and miraculous wrap-up. It is instead, a tribute to community, to ordinary people faced with extraordinary problems, to the human ability to survive and overcome and change.

Give this book to your good readers - the ones who want a book to stay with them a while after they've finished it.

http://shelf-employed.blogspot.com ( )
  shelf-employed | Dec 29, 2014 |
This is the second Kristin Levine book that I have love. (The first being The Lions of Little Rock) This book cover so many tough issues; mental illness (in a time when no one really spoke about it), bullying, and child abuse. The story takes place during the 1950's and deals with the many issues facing the Wilson family. Tommy is the twelve year old boy who is the center of the story and he has to deal with the brunt of the issues that take place in the Wilson home. His older sister, whom Tommy is very close to, is in the hospital after an accident. Tommy then has to deal with his mom's undiagnosed, spiraling mental illness, his sister's paper route, the fact that he himself, is sometimes a bully, and trying to find out who the communist in the neighborhood is. The characters in the book are so well written I could picture each and every one in my mind. I could not put this book down. I would recommend it to any young reader who likes a good realistic story. Levine based this book on a period from her father's life. I now look forward to reading Levine's other book, Best Bad Luck I Ever Had. ( )
  bnbookgirl | Oct 25, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 039916328X, Hardcover)

Though he thinks of himself as a cowboy, Tommy is really a bully.  He's always playing cruel jokes on classmates or stealing from the store. But Tommy has a reason: life at home is tough. His abusive mother isn't well; in fact, she may be mentally ill, and his sister, Mary Lou, is in the hospital badly burned from doing a chore it was really Tommy's turn to do. To make amends, Tommy takes over Mary Lou's paper route. But the paper route also becomes the perfect way for Tommy to investigate his neighbors after stumbling across a copy of The Daily Worker, a communist newspaper.

Tommy is shocked to learn that one of his neighbors could be a communist, and soon fear of a communist in this tight-knit community takes hold of everyone when Tommy uses the paper to frame a storeowner, Mr. McKenzie. As Mr. McKenzie's business slowly falls apart and Mary Lou doesn't seem to get any better, Tommy's mother's abuse gets worse causing Tommy's bullying to spiral out of control.

Poignantly written, Kristin Levine proves herself a master of gripping and affecting historical fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:18 -0400)

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