For some reason I was under the impression that this week’s book, Maniac Magee was Year 1990 and would conclude another decade. Alas, I was mistaken. I’ve still got another week to dwell in the 90’s, so I’ll save my thoughts on how the decade has treated me for next week’s post.
Maniac Magee, which is by Jerry Spinelli, was the first Newbery I’ve read in a long time that I could easily picture a kid reading and loving. In fact, when I started it Forrest told me he’d read it frequently as a kid himself. The chapters are short and the print, in my copy at least, was on the larger side. The story starts out lighthearted enough, if you ignore the part about Magee’s parents dying in a tragic accident when he was only a little kid. He gets passed off to his aunt and uncle, and the household is basically devoid of any kind of love or fun. During a school play Magee reaches his breaking point and runs away. In fact, he spends the majority of the story running. Hence the cover of the book:
The lightheartedness I was alluding to comes from a description of how Magee became a legend and came to be known as a Maniac. It seems that anything put before Magee to do was done perfectly and left the people watching with mouths hanging open. For example, he runs on a single railroad track, makes a touchdown while running through a high school practice game, hits a home run from a kid pitcher who is known for striking out anyone who steps up to the plate, etc.
But, back to seriousness, I think the issue at hand in this story is racial segregation. There’s so much that really could be taken from this story but race is a big part of it. Magee runs into a town that has an invisible line drawn between the East and West end; the blacks vs. the whites. It raised in me a lot of anger at the way people, kids actually, treated each other, and it brought to the surface questions about my own racial outlook in life. Do I look at or treat people of races other than my own differently? If so, why? Is it something ingrained in all of us since the Fall or do we catch it like a cold through the vehicles of fear and lies?
Another question that has lingered with me since closing the book last night was: why did Magee keep running through the entirety of the story, and why was it so hard for him to stop? Was it because he didn’t feel like he fit in either on the white side or the black side? Was it because he didn’t want to get too attached and lose someone important like he had experienced in the past? I feel like I’m shooting out more questions than answers here and probably not giving a very good summary of the story. There were so many story lines, vivid characters and life lessons in this story that I feel like I am grabbing at whatever I can to paint some kind of picture for you. Bah. Just read it. That’s my advice here.
Till next time…