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The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

The Outside Boy

by Jeanine Cummins

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Christy is a young Pavee gypsy boy traveling with his family in Ireland when his grandfather dies. As a traveler who feels claustrophobic when he is indoors for any length of time, he is horrified to find out that his grandfather's body is going to be buried and his wagon and all his belongings lit on fire. And so Christy and his cousin concoct a plan to burn their grandfather's body in the wagon instead of consigning him to the tiny underground space of a coffin. The intended conflagration doesn't quite have the intended effect, both depriving his grandmother of the comfort of long-standing tradition and making the adults angry. And because they are angry, Christy decides that he will not show anyone the newspaper clipping that fluttered, still intact, out of the fire. The clipping shows his mother, an unknown man, and a baby. Meanwhile, Christy's father and aunt have determined that it is time for Christy and his cousin Martin to make their first communion and so they stay in one place far longer than they ever have before, giving Christy time to unravel the mystery of the mother who died in giving him birth.

Cummins has drawn a beautiful and eloquent picture of gyspy life in Ireland and created a charming and insightful character in young Christy. Christy tells his own story in the vernacular but it is fairly easy to adapt to this non-traditional narrative voice. In searching for his mother, Christy is, in many ways, searching for himself and his place in the world. He both envies a settled life and he scorns it as unthinkable. He faces prejudice from the local townspeople, causing him to carefully evaluate the lifestyle in which he has been raised. He knows his father is a good man but what of the loose interpretation of morality as compared to the town folk? He finds good and caring people who value and accept him despite his gypsy heritage. And he finds the help he needs to unravel the threads of his personal history.

Christy is on a quest and what he finds will shake many of his assumptions, shaping who he will become as he goes forward in life. This novel of exploration, mysteries long-buried and unacknowledged, and a way of life slowly dying out is an unexpected delight to read. Cummins has written an engaging and evocative coming of age novel about an unusual boy. Thoughtful and respectful, loaded full of gyspy tradition and reasoning, this story happily satisfies. ( )
  whitreidtan | Aug 9, 2010 |
Eleven year old Christy has lived his whole life on the road – a “traveler” in Ireland – along with his grandparents, father, aunt, uncle and cousins. Martin, the cousin closest to Christy in age, is his constant companion and friend. When Christy’s grandda dies unexpectedly, the family decides to stop traveling for a time in order to facilitate getting Christy and Martin’s Communion.

Christy soon discovers that enrolling in school doesn’t make him any more acceptable to the townspeople. In fact, living among them, he soon begins to question the flexible morality with which he has been brought up. For example, is stealing to fill an empty belly the same as stealing something one covets?

When Christy discovers a worn out newspaper clipping of his mother (who he believes has died giving birth to him), the mystery of his past surfaces…and Christy goes on a search to not only discover his true identity, but to determine whether or not his past will impact his future.

The Outside Boy is a coming of age story dropped into the rich history of Ireland’s gypsies during the mid-twentieth century. Christy is a typical boy in many ways, but his alienation and isolation from the larger world have worked together to make him question the life his family has led. Despite the love of his family, he carries with him the guilt of his mother’s death and wonders if he has missed something essential in not having a stable home. Christy’s search for his identity is the central theme in the book.

Jeanine Cummins captures the life of a nomadic family perfectly, revealing not only their challenges but also their joys. Cummins seems to understand that financial well being does not always equate to happiness, and that love is deeper than material comfort. Christy’s struggle to understand himself, his eagerness for acceptance among his peers, his encounter with first love – all ring true.

There is one part of the book which I did not like – and I will admit it is my own subjective emotion. In the novel an animal dies – actually an animal is killed – and it upset me. I don’t like when animals die in books. Although I will say that this scene was not gratuitous and it actually fit within the context of the story and supported one of the major themes (which is loss and recovery). Even still, if you are like me, you might want to have this warning up front.

Despite this one complaint, I enjoyed my journey with Christy and his family. I think The Outside Boy is a bit of a crossover YA/Adult book. Teens will identify with Christy’s search for himself and struggles with his peers; and adults will enjoy the history of Ireland’s traveling people and the themes of love, loss and moving forward after tragedy. The novel also opens up questions regarding morality – a wonderful jumping off point for discussions with teens about right and wrong, and religion.

Cummins writes with authority and sensitivity – she understands her characters emotions and flaws, and it shows in the writing. Christy is a character walking the fine line between wanting to be an adult, and longing to remain a child – and Cummin’s captures this beautifully, bringing to life a young boy who at times only wishes to be held in the arms of a mother he has never met. Poignant and heartfelt, this is a novel I can recommend. ( )
1 vote writestuff | Jun 24, 2010 |
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For Grandma Polly and Grandpa Art, who came from different wolrds.
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Ireland, 1959 _____ I was dreaming of purple horses.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451229487, Paperback)

Read Jeanine Cummins's posts on the Penguin Blog.

A poignant debut novel of an Irish gypsy boy's childhood in the 1950's by the author of the bestselling memoir A Rip in Heaven.

Ireland, 1959: Young Christy Hurley is a Pavee gypsy, traveling with his father and extended family from town to town, carrying all their worldly possessions in their wagons. Christy carries with him a burden of guilt as well, haunted by the story of his mother's death in childbirth. The peripatetic life is the only one Christy has ever known, but when his grandfather dies, everything changes. His father decides to settle down temporarily in a town where Christy and his cousin can attend mass and receive proper schooling. But they are still treated as outsiders.

As Christy's exposure to a different life causes him to question who he is and where he belongs, the answer may lie with an old newspaper photograph and a long-buried family secret that could change his life forever...

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(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:51 -0400)

Christy Hurley, a young gypsy in 1950s Ireland, is treated as an outsider after his father tries to settle in a single town and the boy finds himself questioning who he is and where he belongs after discovering a family secret.

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