by Vince Vawter
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Set in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1959, this is the mostly autobiographical story of Victor, aka Little Man, who has a stutter and doesn’t talk a lot. He sticks to people he’s most comfortable with: his best friend, Rat (Art, but Rat is easier for him to say), and his maid/nanny/speech therapist, Mam. When Little Man is 12, Rat goes away for all of July, leaving him in charge of Rat’s paper route for the month. Over the four weeks, Little Man lets us into his world, explaining how he gets around words that are hard for him to say: substituting words with easier starting sounds, starting hard words with an extra s on the front, and typing instead of speaking.
Little Man also gets to know some of his neighbors in Memphis, including Mrs. Worthington, a beautiful but tragic alcoholic trapped in an abusive marriage; Mr. Spiro, who always takes time to talk (and listen) to Little Man; and, eventually, another boy who is also different and becomes a friend (spoiler: he’s deaf, and Little Man discovers that he can talk with his hands without stuttering). Little Man’s paper route, while challenging on collection day when he has to talk to people to collect money, also brings to a head his interactions with his neighborhood’s colored junkman, Ara T. He asks Ara T to sharpen his pocketknife so he can use it to cut open the newspaper bundles and Ara T just keeps it for his own, but eventually Mam gets involved and gets it back in a dramatic and somewhat violent scene. Little Man also discovers that his father isn’t who he thinks and grapples with that for much of the month. The ending is not neat but is satisfactory, and Little Man’s growth is satisfying.