Posted in 2014-2015 Club, Mock Newbery Picks

Paper Cowboy, by Kristin Levine

Summary:  In a small town near Chicago in 1953, twelve-year-old Tommy faces escalating problems at home, among his Catholic school friends, and with the threat of a communist living nearby, but taking over his hospitalized sister’s paper route introduces him to neighbors who he comes to rely on for help.



10 thoughts on “Paper Cowboy, by Kristin Levine

  1. Ok, all I can say is this book is depressing…. The way Tommy’s mama beats him up and is happy other times, what happened to his sister; really, this is a depressing story. But I thought it was really good, too!! Very detailed and the kind of book that makes you want to keep reading and never stop (I’m reading it for the 5th time…already). This book, in my opinion, is Newbery worthy.
    Also, I recommend this book for ages 10-up.

    1. This book had some parts that were kind of sad, but overall this was an emotional story. It was easy to relate to, and the characters were deep and well thought out. The setting was intertwined well with the plot. I can tell that the author had to do a good bit of research because this book had just the right details in just the right places to help strengthen the setting. This is one of my top 3 books at the moment and will definitly stay in my top 7. I wouldn’t be suprised if this book won our mock Newbery award.

  2. Paper Cowboy is a touching, inspiring and captivating story about a boy named Tommy who is not your usual nice-guy. If the characters were not done as well as they were, it would have been hard to relate to Tommy, not because of the bad stuff going on in his life: a hospitalized sister, an abusive mom, and hospital debts, but how he himself was at times, a bully. He wasn’t the normal flat bully though, but a three dimensional character, who had friends and adults who liked him. It made the situation more realistic that he wasn’t emotionless or consumed with anger, but trying to get though his life in a way that felt natural; in the way that he was taught at home by his mother who, like him and her own mother, expressed their anger by hurting others, sometimes verbally and sometimes physically. The theme was a really strong part of this story as well, because it made the book stand out from other historical fiction books that depend mostly on plot, setting, or predictable themes. Continually, the image of a cowboy is brought up as a symbol, and used to present almost a tangible example of the theme. During this time period, Tommy, along with other boys at his Catholic school, were really into the western movies and shows. With the schoolboys excited about finding communist spies, the heroic title of cowboy seemed all the more attainable by way of rooting out one of the “commies.” While Tommy dreams of becoming like those gallant cowboys, he is really learning through the hardships in his life that it is possible to be like a cowboy, although it involves some steps he wouldn’t have expected. He never would have guessed that standing up for what’s right, like cowboys do, sometimes is humbling, sometimes painful, and sometimes even seems to do more hurt than help. On the historic side of things, the label “communist” as well turns out to be more complicated then he assumed. This theme of standing up for what’s right was carried out amazingly well throughout every aspect of the story. Because of the poignant writing style, there was never a moment where I wasn’t feeling Tommy’s indecision, shame, or sadness and his desire to be hero in the eyes of his family and friends, especially his mom and sister. There were no scenes thrown into the story to add filler space, but every scene was full of emotion that makes the story more memorable. The scenes with Tommy learning/teaching his Russian neighbor, were some of the most touching scenes and my favorite parts. In fact, I am actually struggling to decide if this book might even be better than Nest, my previous favorite. Most of the criteria for each Nest and Paper Cowboy are, in my mind, tied for most distinguished, however, the theme I felt was stronger in Paper Cowboy. Although I am momentarily undecided between the two for my favorite, Paper Cowboy would definitely be deserving of the mock Newbery Award.

  3. Just finished Paper Cowboy. Have to agree, it is definitely worthy of the award. It fulfilled all criteria. Historically accurate, and presented the time period well. I think this is about the time when psychological things were present but hidden in society. The characters were diverse and each unique. Really enjoyed overall. Like Sarah said, it was a hard read, but there was hope at the end.

  4. This book was incredibly touching. I felt that it really excelled with its characters. Normally when a character is a bully, like Tommy was, you find yourself disliking them. However, in The Paper Cowboy, Tommy’s cycle between bullying, kindness, guilt, and self-pity helped forge a solid relationship between the reader and Tommy. You had to forgive him for his actions and understand his motivations, like you would a real friend. Normally when you read a book, you either like or dislike the character from the beginning, despite what development might take place. Dynamic characters usually discover something about themselves, but in this book, you share the discovery with Tommy. More than anything, the characters and their difficult situations elicited compassion and sympathy from the characters, and this is backed by the fact that this book is based off of the author’s dad’s personal experiences. I felt that while this book did deal with heavy topics(abuse, severe injuries, bullying, alcohol addictions) it was written in a way that allowed readers to understand the circumstances. (This made it feel less like Tommy was just a kid who did not understand why his parents were abusive.) I did not feel that it was too depressing, but it was written for a more mature audience. The writing style was good, not exceptional, but I did not think that it detracted from the book. If anything, it focused the reader on the setting, plot, and characters, the three criteria in which this book pulled ahead.The plot was well developed and clear, with many unexpected occurrences that were a nice surprise but still realistic.

    I think that this book is a definite contender for the Newbery Award.

  5. This book is a complex book to read; it makes you really think about the way you view certain issues, for example, in the book, people in the 1950s were so worried about communists. Tommy, the main character, likes to think of himself as a cowboy of sorts, rooting out communists and doing good. But at the same time, he bullies boys at his school. He’s a very complex character, not all good and not all bad. One of the reasons he does bully his schoolmates is because of his mother, who is very unkind to put it lightly. After Tommy’s sister Mary Lou is severely burned while burning trash, his mother really goes downhill and subsequently Tommy’s bullying gets worse as well. In addition, Tommy learns that the label of “communist” is way more complicated and three-dimensional than he previously thought. When he finds a communist newspaper in his town, he decides to investigate, and he also uses that newspaper as a way to get back at someone he doesn’t like, an action which has its own subplot and adds even more depth to the overall plot.
    There was a sense of community in the story that was really interesting and realistic to read about, as well. When Tommy begins teaching his elderly Russian neighbor English in exchange for accordion lessons, he was originally trying to root her out as a communist. But over time, he sees her as a friend. Those scenes were touching and, like Krista, were some of my favorite parts of the book. Mrs. Scully was also one of my favorite characters, although she was a fairly minor one. In fact, every character had an interesting backstory and had good depth, and not one of them was flat in any way.
    This book is amazing and I would definitely recommend it to anyone twelve and up. As for Mock Newbery, this book is definitely worthy of an award and it’s in my Top Three, although I’m wrestling with it as to whether it’s my number one (over Nest) or my number two.

    1. I recently re-read this book, and I want to add a few comments on a criterion that I may not have fully noticed the first time around.
      The setting was extremely well done. It wasn’t over-explained to the point of boringness, but it also wasn’t nonexistent. The author knew exactly when to step up her description of the setting and when to let it fade into the background a little – during a scene with little conversation, Tommy’s surroundings were vividly depicted. But in a tension-filled moment with lots of different characters involved, Tommy didn’t really notice what shade of green the bush to his left happened to be, and that fit just right. The other part of the setting, the time period, was also important to the plot, and it might have been even better done than the physical aspect of the setting. In everything Tommy and the other characters said and did, I really felt as though I was in the 1950s with them. Even the way they moved around the town was much different from how we do today. You probably wouldn’t see a teacher tell two of her students to go run an errand for her during recess nowadays, but Tommy and his friends act like it’s a completely normal thing, and so I as the reader also felt that there wasn’t any abnormality there.
      This book, at number two in my Top Seven, is definitely still one of my picks for a Mock Newbery Honor!

  6. This book is one of my favorites I’ve read this year. You learn that everyone has a story and choices. When Tommy’s sister gets burned his whole world falls apart. His mom starts to beat him and he starts to bully. He also has to take care of the whole family. After he plants a communist paper in a store owner’s shop he learns great lessons. The plot was very strong and always making you be on the edge of your seat. The characters all have an important role and (like Olivia said) have depth. I also like how they make choices a theme through the cowboy since Tommy loves them. This is definitely a winner!

  7. The paper cowboy was a good easy read. I expected a little more and was dissappointed in certain areas of the book. Overall I feel like the book is Newbery worthy and I would recommend it to 6th graders or ,aybe 5th graders in above because of all the bad things that happen in the book.

  8. I loved this book! It is in my top 5 picks. The author created characters that had a wide range of emotions and their own developed personality. I agree with Olivia about the time period where life was different but the author framed it in a way that the reader didn’t feel out of place. This was an awesome book and I highly recommend it.

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