TILTAWHIRL JOHN by Gary Paulsen

TILTAWHIRL JOHN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

When you hoe beets you're alone, so alone you might as well be on another planet," and when you work a carnival, it's like being separate, detached, "from outer space"--and it's the runaway narrator's immersion in these other worlds that gives Paulsen's high-key, deep-think story a real punch. At sixteen, he's not ready to take up his uncle's offer of 80 flat North Dakota acres, not without a try for fame and fortune. The breakaway (said to resemble Paulsen's own) lands him first among brutalized wetbacks on a sugar-beet farm where nearly a month of dry beans and bread and short-handled hoeing "from can to can't" nets him--"I'll call it even," says the smirking padrone. On the road again after attacking the boss, he's picked up by carnies Tiltawhirl John (for the ride he operates), hard/ soft wife Wanda, a stripper, and brother Billy, T-John's twin except for his shaved pate: he's the wild man who bites the heads off chickens. Billy's also the one who explains "the turkey world and the carny world," and--answering the boy's question--how it is that T-John can stand "all those turkeys seeing Wanda naked." But the glazed, bored, carny look that the boy learns--and his comfort at being one of the family--don't survive a fatal knife fight between T-John and Wanda's former lover that snaps the two worlds together. Home again farming, he won't forget, though, and neither will the reader. The acute observations outweigh the portentousness.
Pub Date: Dec. 31st, 1978
ISBN: 0812492110
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1978




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