Paperboy (2013 – Penguin Random House)
An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So, when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, he knows he’ll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything.
The newspaper route poses challenges, but it’s a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble —and puts the boy’s life, as well as that of his family’s devoted housekeeper, in danger.
Paperboy won a prestigious Newbery Honor in 2014. It has been published in 17 languages.
Copyboy (2018 – Capstone Editions)
Victor Vollmer, 17, isn’t a paperboy anymore, but he continues on his stuttering journey. He has a summer job as a newspaper copyboy and is preparing to start college. His duties at the newspaper are interrupted by a last request from Mr. Spiro, the scholarly gentleman who became his mentor in the beloved novel Paperboy.
Victor takes off on a journey that sends him hundreds of miles from home and toward the teeth of a gathering storm. Confronted by an unfamiliar and threatening world, he meets a young woman who is strong and bold like no one he has known before. Together they venture toward the place where the river meets sea. When they end up racing to evade a hurricane, Victor finds out what the fates have in store for him.
Copyboy won the national Whippoorwill Award in 2019. It has been published in five languages.
Manboy (2023 – Woodlot Press)
Victor Vollmer is 21 years old now and has been waiting for three years to reunite with Philomene Moreau, the South Louisiana free spirit who saved his life in the Mississippi River. Soon after “Phil” arrives in Memphis, Vic’s meticulously planned weekend comes crashing down as a world event suddenly unfolds.
Vic, still dealing with his worrisome stutter, and, Phil, needing badly to share her secret, grapple with the tumult paralyzing the city. Aiding in their desperate search to find solace is a wise and steadying soul from Vic’s past.
Manboy is a work of historical fiction set against the actual newspaper headlines of five days in April 1968 that changed the world.
A Personal Note About the Paperboy Trilogy
During the past 10 years, I’ve been privileged to speak at hundreds of schools about my books. Knowing that much of my fiction is autobiographical, I’m frequently asked how I manage to recall events of my youth — I was born in 1946 — in such detail. My answers have been fuzzy, but I’m beginning to understand the proper response.
For young people who stutter, the condition is confusing and traumatic. Stuttering events become seared in the consciousness under the labels of embarrassment, shame and inadequacy. We simply don’t have the maturity to know better. An inner voice continues the adolescent scream: “What’s wrong with me?”
In the quest for that answer, our young minds put our thoughts and feelings under an uncompromising microscope, which only begins to achieve a focus with age and maturity. The emotional scars may become less noticeable, but they remain scars, nonetheless.
The careful reader of the trilogy will recognize that the first-person “voice” — thought patterns, vocabulary, writing comprehension — of the protagonist is different at the three stages of his life. Indeed, I have come to feel that my 11-year-old self is responsible for Paperboy; the 17-year-old version of me wrote Copyboy; the 21-year-old me wrote Manboy. I emerge from a writing session with the mindful surprise of arthritic knees and the shuffling gait of an old man.
“Would you have written your stories if you weren’t a person who stuttered?” asks a young student. I give a long and convoluted response. The simple answer is “no.”
“But you’re glad you wrote them, aren’t you?”