And it seemed to me that we was like seafarers, and the tober was the ocean. We was passing the landlubbers by. We gawped at each other, us from our ships, and them from their shores, but the gap between us was so big we couldn’t cross it. It was high tide or low tide, or whatever tide would prevent us from dropping anchor and rowing out to them, to exchange gifts and brides, gods and diseases. – from The Outside Boy, page 55 –
Eleven year old Christy has lived his whole life on the road – a “traveler” in Ireland – along with his grandparents, father, aunt, uncle and cousins. Martin, the cousin closest to Christy in age, is his constant companion and friend. When Christy’s grandda dies unexpectedly, the family decides to stop traveling for a time in order to facilitate getting Christy and Martin’s Communion.
Granny said it was serendipity that brought us to this town after Grandda died, like as if serendipity was a carousel, or a train you could buy tickets from, and then decide for yourself where it was you wanted to get off. Granny was sure that this was the town that’d welcome us, where we could stay long enough for me and Martin to get our long-overdue Communions. Where we could hunker down and start the work of repairing ourselves. – from The Outside Boy, page 58 –
Christy soon discovers that enrolling in school doesn’t make him any more acceptable to the townspeople. In fact, living among them, he soon begins to question the flexible morality with which he has been brought up. For example, is stealing to fill an empty belly the same as stealing something one covets?
When Christy discovers a worn out newspaper clipping of his mother (who he believes has died giving birth to him), the mystery of his past surfaces…and Christy goes on a search to not only discover his true identity, but to determine whether or not his past will impact his future.
The Outside Boy is a coming of age story dropped into the rich history of Ireland’s gypsies during the mid-twentieth century. Christy is a typical boy in many ways, but his alienation and isolation from the larger world have worked together to make him question the life his family has led. Despite the love of his family, he carries with him the guilt of his mother’s death and wonders if he has missed something essential in not having a stable home. Christy’s search for his identity is the central theme in the book.
Jeanine Cummins captures the life of a nomadic family perfectly, revealing not only their challenges but also their joys. Cummins seems to understand that financial well being does not always equate to happiness, and that love is deeper than material comfort. Christy’s struggle to understand himself, his eagerness for acceptance among his peers, his encounter with first love – all ring true.
There is one part of the book which I did not like – and I will admit it is my own subjective emotion. In the novel an animal dies – actually an animal is killed – and it upset me. I don’t like when animals die in books. Although I will say that this scene was not gratuitous and it actually fit within the context of the story and supported one of the major themes (which is loss and recovery). Even still, if you are like me, you might want to have this warning up front.
Despite this one complaint, I enjoyed my journey with Christy and his family. I think The Outside Boy is a bit of a crossover YA/Adult book. Teens will identify with Christy’s search for himself and struggles with his peers; and adults will enjoy the history of Ireland’s traveling people and the themes of love, loss and moving forward after tragedy. The novel also opens up questions regarding morality – a wonderful jumping off point for discussions with teens about right and wrong, and religion.
Cummins writes with authority and sensitivity – she understands her characters emotions and flaws, and it shows in the writing. Christy is a character walking the fine line between wanting to be an adult, and longing to remain a child – and Cummin’s captures this beautifully, bringing to life a young boy who at times only wishes to be held in the arms of a mother he has never met. Poignant and heartfelt, this is a novel I can recommend.
*FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.