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The Paper Cowboy

The Paper Cowboy
Kristin Levine
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2014
Source: E-Galley, Library
Audience: Younger Teens

From Goodreads:
Though he thinks of himself as a cowboy, Tommy is really a bully.  He's always playing cruel jokes on classmates or stealing from the store. But Tommy has a reason: life at home is tough. His abusive mother isn't well; in fact, she may be mentally ill, and his sister, Mary Lou, is in the hospital badly burned from doing a chore it was really Tommy's turn to do. To make amends, Tommy takes over Mary Lou's paper route. But the paper route also becomes the perfect way for Tommy to investigate his neighbors after stumbling across a copy of The Daily Worker, a communist newspaper.

Tommy is shocked to learn that one of his neighbors could be a communist, and soon fear of a communist in this tight-knit community takes hold of everyone when Tommy uses the paper to frame a storeowner, Mr. McKenzie. As Mr. McKenzie's business slowly falls apart and Mary Lou doesn't seem to get any better, Tommy's mother's abuse gets worse causing Tommy's bullying to spiral out of control.

Man, it took me WAY too long to get to this book - just over a year. I read it so quickly and loved every page of it. It teaches kids about the consequences of their actions and how failing to think ahead can cause major problems for others. Tommy has major problems at home, and it affects some of his decisions. He showed resilience and worked hard - too hard for a kid. I think readers will admire him, even though he isn’t nice sometimes. My only reservation with the book was that I’m not sure how well it explained communism and why everyone was so scared of it. When I was a kid, it took me a long time to understand the concept and history of communism. I’d be interested to see what young readers get from the author’s explanation. It might just be me, as an adult, overthinking. I’m looking forward to buying this book in paperback!