Saturday, August 17, 2019

Reading And Walking: Maniac Magee

Welcome to Reading and Walking, where I go for a stroll and attempt to listen to an entire audiobook. I’m going to review the book and show you what I saw on my walk. Simple, right? For this adventure, I chose to listen to Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. I chose it because it won the Newbery Medal in 1991, and it’s short. The audiobook is 4 hours, 23 minutes. I knew I could walk for that long and finish the book in one afternoon.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Genre: Realistic middlegrade
Pages: 184 (4hr 23min audiobook)
Publication date: 1990
Content warning: Homelessness, divorce, racism, death, violence
Available at: Amazon | Book Depository

Jeffrey Lionel "Maniac" Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn't made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run—and not just run away, but run. This is where the myth of Maniac Magee begins, as he changes the lives of a racially divided small town with his amazing and legendary feats.
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This happens every year: I’m all excited to get outside on a summer day. Then I actually go outside and instantly discover that it’s hotter than the deepest chamber of a volcano. Then I remember why I hate summer. I’m not a hot weather person. I melt and get cranky. When I started this walk, the sun was rising, and it was already 81°F (27°C). As I walked, it got hotter and hotter and hotter until I flopped down under a tree and waited for death.

At least I had a good book to listen to while my corpse cooked. This actually isn’t the first time I’ve listened to Maniac Magee. A teacher read it to our class when I was 9 or 10 years old. All I remembered about it was that the main character could run really fast. Yeah. My nine-year-old self completely missed the point of most literature, but I remember enjoying the story.

*Deep breath of scorching air.*
Let's stroll.

I don't know what this plant is, but it's quickly eating an entire fence.

Maniac Magee stars a homeless kid (who can run really fast). He finds himself in a racially segregated town and impresses both the black kids and the white kids with his extraordinary athletic abilities. They nickname him “Maniac Magee.” This is a character-driven novel that follows Maniac’s quest to find a home and to bring his two groups of friends together. (One of his challenges works out better than the other.)

I can see why I liked this book as a child: It sucks the reader in right away. The story is told with hindsight. Maniac has become a legend in the town, and I immediately wanted to know what he’d done to earn the respect of so many children. Maniac is an endearing character. He badly wants a family, but he feels like he’s a burden to people because he attracts trouble wherever he goes.

The characters are where this novel shines. They’re unique, and they really bring the town to life. The audiobook narrator, S. Epatha Merkerson, does an excellent job of injecting personality into the dialogue.

[T]he history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball. And if you want to know what it was like back when Maniac Magee roamed these parts, well, just run your hand under your movie seat and be very, very careful not to let the facts get mixed up with the truth.Maniac Magee

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I do have a few quibbles with it. First, the adults seem supremely unconcerned that there’s a homeless, parentless child in their town. For a while, Maniac lives in the buffalo enclosure at the zoo. Everybody just shrugs about it. Buffalos are dangerous! The adult characters feed Maniac and let him stay at their houses, but they don’t alert Child Protective Services or try to find out where he came from. They also don’t seem very concerned when he runs away and doesn’t come back. As a child reader, I probably overlooked the irresponsible behavior of the adult characters, but as an adult, it freaked me out. You don’t let a child sleep with the buffalos! What is wrong with you, people?

I also rolled my eyes at Maniac’s cluelessness about race. He lives in a town that’s on the brink of a race war, but he can’t tell what makes a person black or white? I’m not buying it. However, I did buy the reactions of the characters to Maniac’s friendships. When he attempts to bring his black friends and his white friends together, things don’t go well. Maniac becomes the target of abuse from both sides when he (a white kid) moves in with a black family. I like that Maniac is unable to solve the town’s problems. Racism is a bigger issue than one child can fix.

I’ve felt “meh” about a lot of Newbery winners, but I really liked this one. It’s well-written, and the audiobook narrator makes it a fun listening experience.

Thank you to this dude's family for building a bench in the shade. As a former editor, I'm bothered that they spelled "Honour" the British way and "Traveled" the American way. Do you think that was intentional? (This is the kind of thing I ponder when I'm sweating to death.)

A tiny mule deer in the tall grass.

I hoped this helicopter would land and offer me a ride home. (Spoiler alert: That did not happen.)

I wish my walk had been a better experience. I walked for nearly 4.5 hours, but I only made it 8 miles because the sun is my enemy! It was so hot! I spent a lot of time sitting in the shade, questioning my life choices. The wildflowers were pretty, but I’m ready for fall. Summer is not my thing.

Have you ever reread one of your childhood books and thought, Wow, I really missed the point of this story when I was a kid?


  1. I liked this book as a child, but I only remember a few details (like the running, and I think he had a pizza allergy?). I'll have to reread it sometime. I'm curious what my thoughts will be on it as an adult.

  2. Walking eight miles over four hours in the heat of summer is not to be dismissed. And what a wonderful, awful walk you had. Maniac Magee is a fascinating character. My favorite character by this author will always be Stargirl.

    Love how you always tell it like it is.

  3. I never forget why I hate summer. It really is amazing to revisit a story from our youth, and see how the meaning has changed. Merkerson the actress was the narrator? Cool. And, awww - tiny deer.

  4. I don't know how you stay outside in that heat! I love the little deer though! I'm glad you enjoyed this book. I had actually never heard of it so I'll have to check it out!

  5. I'm happy you didn't die :) Your telling of the story was interesting and I probably would feel the same way about the adults not paying attention to this homeless child. Other than the heat, I hope your walk was a good one.

  6. I can read for that period of time but I couldn't walk that amount! I've never really enjoyed walking or summer! Roll on winter!!! I want to go back to my Enid Blyton and horse books to see what I think of them-I plan to do that IF I get the TBR down to maybe 150!

  7. Great deer sighting. I bet there's a lot more where that one came from.

  8. This sounds like a really good listen. I would have issues with the adults' behavior as well but otherwise it sounds really good. Sorry that your walk was so hot...fall is just around the corner.

  9. Such a relatable post, lol. I always think I'm going to love taking a nice long walk during the summer and then usually end up wondering if I'm actually going to survive the heat long enough to make it back home. And yes, I'm also right there with you about missing the point of a lot of books I read when I was a kid. Maniac Magee does sound really good though. My son has not been enjoying books as much lately now that he's entered the required reading stage of school life, but I might try to snag a copy of this one for him. I think he would actually enjoy it.

  10. I definitely would not be able to walk around outside for 4 hours listening to a book this time of year. Like you, I hate hot weather!

  11. That's a lot of time to go out walking this time of year! I went out today and walked for about an hour, and I was so hot when I got back! Maybe I should consider taking a water bottle next time. I took a picture of one of those pinkish-white flowers today too!

  12. I love these posts when you read and give us some piece of your homeland AJ! As I love Colorado it makes me nostalgic and want to go back again.

  13. I live in a hot area so I don't go out except after dark or early in the morning. You are better than me AJ!! I think I remember this book from school?! It's the name of the boy, its quite unique. I like the sound of it. It does sound like it didn't totally retain its quality with age. ❤️

  14. I love the narratives of your walks! 👟👟

    Those are some type of morning glory eating that fence. 🌸

    This book sounds interesting. I should add it to Goidreads. 👍✨

  15. I've definitely had this happen before---where I've reread a childhood favorite and thought, "Wow, I totally missed that." In fact, this happened with me with The Selfish Giant, which I listened to over and over and over again as a child. When I decided to do a retelling, I reread the story and thought, "Wait, this is a Christian story? The little boy was Jesus?!?" Apparently, little unchurched me did not get the message there. (As a side note, I'm not making any of the characters in my book Jesus, though I'm trying to keep the theme of sacrifice to honor that connection that I apparently completely missed as a child.)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  16. Reading and walking can be dangerous. Lol. I've done reading and sitting on a bus and occasionally walk around the hallways with a book in my hands, great exercise.

  17. I don't know how you made it 8 miles in that heat - go you!

    This book does sound like an interesting read - it is funny the things we pick up as kids vs as adults.

    Hopefully (for your sake haha) the next post of this kinds looks lovely & autumnal.