Little Man, whose real name isn’t revealed until the conclusion, stutters badly, a situation that presents new difficulties now that he’s taken over his friend’s paper route for a month.
Debut author Vawter depicts a harshly segregated 1959 Memphis, and since the tale is highly autobiographical, he captures a full and realistic flavor of the time. Little Man, as he’s called by his brave, black live-in housekeeper, Mam, has a few less-than-effective strategies that he employs to control his stutter, but it dominates his life nonetheless. Along the paper route, he encounters three fully rounded characters who make their mark on the story: Mrs. Worthington, a young, attractive and abused wife who drinks too much and awakens in Little Man a new, albeit very safe, interest in the opposite sex; Mr. Spiro, a widely read retired seaman who offers Little Man heartfelt advice and insightful support; and scary junkman Ara T, who steals Little Man’s knife and evolves into a looming threat both to the boy and Mam. Carefully crafted language, authenticity of setting and quirky characters that ring fully true all combine to make this a worthwhile read. Although Little Man’s stutter holds up dialogue, that annoyance also powerfully reflects its stultifying impact on his life.
An engaging and heartfelt presentation that never whitewashes the difficult time and situation as Little Man comes of age. (Historical fiction. 10-14)