Tuesday, March 15, 2011
REVIEW: The Outside Boy, by Jeanine Cummins
The Outside Boy is set in the rural Ireland of the 1950s, in a world far from the political problems of the day, in the itinerant community of the Irish Travellers. They are also called Pavees and, in a derogitory manner, tinkers (not to be confused with Paul Harding's clockworker tinkers, though). Jeanine Cummins' novel focuses on one such band of wanderers, the Hurley family, and on little Christy Hurley, a motherless boy traveling with his father and extended family.
Christy believes that his mother died seven minutes after giving birth to him, and he has been carrying this burden of guilt for all of his 11 years. As the story opens, Christy's grandfather has just died, and, per Traveller tradition, all of his belongings have been burned. However, a newspaper clipping showing a beautiful woman wearing the same pendant Christy wears around his own neck escapes the flames. As the family has stopped in a small town to see to Christy's and his cousin's religious education, Christy befriends a local bookseller who helps him solve the mystery of the woman in the photo.
I also loved the sound of the book. Cummins says in the introduction that she did not write it in genuine Traveller dialect (Shelta) because to do so would render the book incomprehensible; instead she writes the narration and the dialogue in a very genuine-sounding Irish voice that charmed me right away. And I loved the empathy and compassion she has for her characters. My quibbles are minor; towards the end, the story descends in melodrama and Christy does some things and has some insights that seem very mature for an 11-year-old (but would fit better on a 15-year-old). I liked it best (loved it, really) when the book focused more on Christy's coming of age and less on the drama.
Having said all that, I loved The Outside Boy and would recommend it to almost anyone looking for a great read. It's so sweet and tender; it made me laugh and cry and turn the pages, too. It also offers a look at a way of life that is probably little-known outside of Ireland and Great Britain. Beyond that, though, it's really just a wonderful story about a little boy trying to find his way in the world. I'm so glad I read it and I hope you do, too.
Here's the Wikipedia page on Irish Travellers.
This book counts towards the Ireland Reading Challenge 2011.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.