The Outside Boy – Book Review

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.

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    • Jeane on June 24, 2010 at 08:57

    It sounds like a book I might enjoy, even though reading of animals dying makes me sad. I’m adding it to my TBR…

    • Andi on June 24, 2010 at 10:12

    Irish gypsies are not a group I see representated in literary fiction a lot. This sounds like an intriguing plot with plenty to think about. And thanks for the dying animal warning. I like to be prepared for things like that. They make me cringe!

    • Trisha on June 24, 2010 at 10:31

    I got this one at BEA, and from the reviews I’ve seen, it looks like a book I will enjoy. Great review.

  1. Sounds like a fascinating story. I don’t like to read about the death of animals either, but if it fits into the story, I can tolerate it.

    • Kay on June 24, 2010 at 12:46

    I’ve got a copy of this book too and really need to get it read soon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

  2. I need more Irish gypsies in my life. It almost feels like my ancestors are calling out to me to read this book…thanks for the review.

  3. Oh I can’t wait to read this one! I love stories of Ireland and think that reading about the gypsys would be very interesting and a little unusual. I also think that the animal death will make me upset as well, but I am hoping it doesn’t ruin the book for me. Thanks for the great review. I will have to let you know what I think of it!!

    • Aths on June 25, 2010 at 11:08

    This one sounds amazing! Thanks for the review. Let me go check it out!

    • Wendy on June 28, 2010 at 06:44

    Jeane: Luckily the animal dying is just a small part of the book…

    Andi: I liked the gypsy angle… well written and, as you say, intriguing.

    Trisha: I’ll be interested to read your review 🙂

    Kathy: I think you’d like this one…as I mentioned to Jeane, luckily the animal dying is not a huge part of the book…

    Kay: you’re welcome – hope you’ll enjoy the book!

    Jen: LOL – well if you need more Irish gypsies in your life, this book is for you!

    Zibilee: Hope you’ll love the book – I will DEFINITELY be looking for your review of it!

    Aths: you’re welcome – hope you’ll find it is a good book for you 🙂

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