By Jerry Spinelli
180 pages – ages 9+
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 1999
Jeffrey Magee hated living with his aunt and uncle who hated each other, but he had no choice because his parents died in a trolley accident and he was an orphan. After putting up with his aunt and uncle for years, Jeffrey finally snaps and runs… and runs… and runs. He runs away and keeps running. He ends up in Two Mills, Pennsylvania. Jeffrey soon gets a reputation of being that “Maniac” kid because he is so fast no one can beat him and he is an expert at all kinds of sports. Jeffrey is homeless and wants more than anything to have a home and a family. He meets a girl, Amanda Beale and they become friends. The Beales know that Jeffrey doesn’t have a home and they asks him to come and stay with their family. Jeffrey is happy with the Beales and they like having him as part of their family but not everyone in this part of Two Mills was happy Jeffrey was there. You see, Jeffrey is white and the Beales are black and the East side of Two Mills is where black people live. Jeffrey didn’t understand why someone would not like him just because he was not black. The Beales didn’t care and they treated Jeffrey like their own family, but some of the East-siders chase him away. Maniac continues to run from place to place in and out of Two Mills trying to find a place to call home and a family of his own. Will he ever realize where his true home is?
This is a moving book about racism. It teaches that racism is something taught. Jeffrey didn’t think about the different colors of people. He never knew that white and black people could not like each other because of the way they looked. I really love how Mr. Spinelli has Jeffrey describes black people’s skin;
“he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him, was real black.”
Mr. Spinelli mixed the right amount of humor with an awesome story that not only kept me reading but also gave an important message about a tough subject. I loved reading about the feats that Maniac did in the book (the scene where he hits an in-the-park home run with a frog as the ball is hysterical…Oh and the frog was not hurt). I like how he was a good big brother to the Beale’s kids. This is just an awesome book! I can see why this book won the 1991 Newbery Medal!
To learn more about Mr. Spinelli and his other great books, please visit his website by clicking HERE!