Paperboy is about Victor Vollmer, a twelve-year-old living in Nashville in 1959 who takes over his friend’s paper route, a relatively easy job for a pre-adolescent boy. But Victor stutters and is extremely self-conscious about his speech difficulties. He hopes being a paperboy will help him overcome his stuttering because he will be forced to talk to adults as part of the job.
One of the things that struck me about this book was a common theme that I encountered when I first began to work at Kurzweil/IntelliTools. One of my first projects was to interview a man who was diagnosed with dyslexia late in life. He told me that reading was impossible for him so he developed an alternate way of learning. Like this gentleman, Victor copes with his stuttering by creating elaborate talking tips. For instance, he chooses words that don’t start with troublesome letters, he tosses a pencil in the air before speaking, or he shouts the words. He even turns to a more self-destructive method by pushing a thumbtack into his hand while he speaks. He thought the pain of the thumbtack would replace the pain of not being able to speak like others. This was heartbreaking but I admired Victor’s ingenuity and ability to adapt.
Paperboy is an interesting story about more than stuttering. The book is also a coming-of-age story. Victor has his first crush on an older woman, he gets a glimpse of the underbelly of society, and he develops a relationship with an interesting and wise merchant marine who has a way with words. Throughout the book, though, Victor’s message is that he looks like any other kid but happens to have a different way of talking. He says, “You can’t tell what a kid is like just by how he looks. Or how he talks.”
I won’t give away the ending and tell you whether Victor overcomes his stuttering, but he does learn “that life is about much more than stuttering.” While Paperboy is a Junior Library Guild Selection and is appropriate for Grades 6 to 9, adults will find this a quick read and will help develop a sensitivity and understanding of how a speech difficulty can affect a child. You might even consider reading this book together as a family!