This paperback original is a real find. The Outside Boy is an historical coming-of-age story set within a mostly vanished community likely unfamiliar to teens. In the Author’s Note, Cummins states that one of her goals in writing the book was to depict travellers (or gypsies) beyond the usual stereotypes.
Apart from any agenda, this book is easy to sink into, thanks to wonderful characters, vivid writing, and a unique setting.
Do not be surprised to see this novel on a few “best of the year” lists.
Adult/High School–For all of his 11 years, Christy has travelled the Irish countryside, living out of a wagon he shares with his Dad. They are Pavees, nomadic Irish Travellers, who were once respected for the skills they brought to remote villages. But by the spring of 1959, they are increasingly reviled as nuisances and thieves. When Christy’s grandfather dies, the family honors the Pavee tradition by burning his wagon. Christy catches a newspaper photograph as it flies out of the flames. He learns that the woman holding a baby in the photograph is his mother, whom he has been told died seven minutes after his birth. Believing that it is a message from his dead grandfather, Christy sets out to learn the truth of his past, and to understand his place in the world as a Pavee. Cummins wonderfully conjures the beauty and hardship of the Pavee way of life in this impressive coming-of-age story. The young characters, which include Christy’s unapologetically brash cousin Martin, a social misfit named Beano, and adored Finnuala Whippet, are fresh and believable, adding a delightful air of youthful fun to the story. Many teens will recognize the agony of Christy’s dilemma as he is driven to defy his beloved father in order to learn the secrets of his own birth. Cummins chose not to fully re-create the Pavee dialect in her narrative, which makes the novel quite accessible to teens, offering a glimpse into this unique nomadic lifestyle from an adolescent’s point of view.–Diane Colson, New Port Richey Library, FL