Author: Jerry Spinelli
Release Date: 1990
Genre: children's fiction, family, adventure, cultural fiction, racism
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: Children's Fiction
Age Group: 14+ (probably good for 12+, just keep in mind the drinking problem)
Summary: Jeffrey Lionel Magee. His parents died in a train crash, and he spent the next eight years with his aunt and uncle. They couldn't share, so they had two of everything, except, of course Jeffrey.
Well Jeffrey eventually tired of the fighting and being shared. So he ran away. He ran very far away.
One day, Jeffrey wanders into the town of Two Mills. A huge war is going on, just below the surface, but he doesn't even realize it. Instead, he waltzes right in and crosses the boundary from one side to the other as he pleases. This causes all sorts of problems, and eventually Jeffrey has to face what he believes to be a complete lie: the difference between the people on West End and the people on East End.
Tensions rise. Jeffrey continues to wander. Until one day when he finally decides to bring the war to an end--so he brings a friend to a birthday party.
Word of Warning
- Racism. The people on West End are white, the people on East End are black. Each side thinks poorly of the other, almost considering them to be sub-human and forbidding any interaction between either side. Probably the most outlandish example of this is the McNabs, who build a "bomb" shelter from which they plan to attack the "enemies."
- Drinking. Neglect. Death. Divorce. Families for real, and families torn apart.
- A character sleeps in a zoo.
- A character dies a rather heartbreaking (but calm and peaceful) death.
- Characters are rude to one another.
- Someone hits a frog with a baseball bat (we're assured the frog is not injured).
- Lying, bribing, cheating, screaming, whining, all the stuff that kids will do from time to time. For the most part, they don't get away with it.
- "Trash talk". No actual words, but Jeffrey apparently learns trash talk while playing football, and is quickly told that is not to be used in the house but only on the football field.
Right up there at the top of my list, this book. The author ingeniously chose the perfect narration style for a tall tale like this one, and it worked wonders on the story itself.
The story itself? It's a wild tale of a boy who completes crazy feats, sometimes for a cause, sometimes just to do it. It's an insane cast of characters who are just unique enough for you to fall in love with them (no matter how crabby), and yet just common enough for you to match them up with all of your own neighbors.
It's also the story of differences. Spinelli creates a mirror world in East End and West End, something a careful reader will notice. This mirror world is eventually forced to face the other side, and even that confrontation is well done.
Honestly? It's just a great book.
"They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring. They say he kept an eight-inch cockroach on a leash and that rats stood guard over him while he slept. They say if you knew he was coming and you sprinkled salt on the ground and he ran over it, within two or three blocks he would be as slow as everybody else. They say....
But that's ok, because the history of a kid os one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball. And if you want to know what it was like back when Maniac Magee roamed these parts, well, just run your hand under your movie seat and be very, very careful not to let the facts get mixed up with the truth."
With a beginning like that, how could it not be?