Genre: middle grade fiction
Length: 184 pages
Setting: Pennsylvania, recent past (maybe the ’60s or ’70s)
Interest: It was recommended somewhere as a good read aloud.
Summary: When Jeffrey Magee’s parents died, he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle. Life there wasn’t all that great, so one day, he decided to run away back home. He ended up in Two Mills, across the river from Bridgeport where he grew up. Once there, he upended a lot of social conventions just be making no note of skin color. For a while, he lived with the Beales in East End, where no whites usually went. He leaves when the family starts getting racist comments for letting a white boy live with them. Then, he found a home with Grayson, the old maintenance worker at the zoo, when he was living in the buffalo pen. When he died, Magee holed up with the McNabs, who were planning for an invasion by the blacks. All along the way, he was performing feats of bravery (like knocking on Finsterwald’s door) and skill (like untangling Cobble’s Knot) that made him a legend among the local kids.
Final thoughts: This was a great read aloud. Spinelli liked to use lists throughout the story, like “The town was buzzing. The schools were buzzing. Hallways. Lunchrooms. Streets. Playgrounds. West End. East End.” The short chapters and the rhythm of the writing made the words just flow. Spinelli also beautifully captured the speech of kids, as well as the tension between the East End (where the blacks lived) and the West End (where the whites lived), which Magee never understood. He did make an effort to bring the two sides together, and we see it worked only in the prologue. It’s worth reading the prologue again after you finished the book so you can understand all the references.
Title comes from: The nickname given to Jeffrey Magee by the children of Two Mills.
Awards won: the Newbery Award in 1991
Reading challenges fulfilled: 92/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, and 16/12 in my Award Winning Challenge
If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!