Friday, April 1, 2011

World Party: A gypsy father, a missing mother, and Finnaula Whippet

Ireland was March's country of choice in the World Reading Challenge, and I chose to pick a book up off my shelf that I've had since BEA last year: The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins. [I mean, I sure as hell wasn't going to read any James Joyce.]

The Outside Boy is about a young 12-year-old Pavee (gypsy) boy in 1959 who travels from town to town with his father and extended family, carting all their possessions on wagons. William Christopher Hurley, "Christy" for short, has never met his mother, as she died in childbirth, and it's a burden he's carried his whole life. However, when his grandfather dies and the family decides to temporarily set up camp in a small town, the exposure to a different way of life inspires Christy to explore his past and find out about his mother.

I'm glad that I picked this one. It was exciting to read a story that focuses on a such tiny blip in the history and population of Ireland (not that I know that much Irish history in the first place). It's definitely a coming of age story for Christy; Cummins tells the story from his first-person perspective to give the reader and understanding of his thoughts and thought processing. The conflicts within Christy's own perception of himself are universal. He wants the stability of a house and home, but he feels stifled and aches for the outdoors when he's inside one; Christy understands his father's love for him, yet he begrudges him for his mother's absence. Christy realizes he is "an outside boy," not sure where he belongs nor how he fits in. His quest for answers and self-searching tugs at the heart strings but with an energetic spunk to keep the reader deeply involved in the story.

Beyond Christy's individual story, Cummins addressed the Pavee/traveller culture as a whole, and how they fit into society and are perceived by the stationary population. Pavees possess an intricate culture and language of their own, yet they're often perceived as unintelligent vagrants and addressed with derogatory terms. I was surprised to read that this group is still prominent in Ireland; over 22,000 travellers were reported in the 2006 Irish census, as well as significant populations in Great Britain and even communities of the United States.

I really enjoyed this book. It's good for a bit of a culture and history lesson and a good character story to boot.

Next up, Jamaica....


Jenny said...

I'm glad you liked this book! I loved it!

Kari said...

I remember reading a review of it on a blog a while ago that inspired me to finally pick it up off my must've been yours!!

softdrink said...

Good call on skipping the Joyce. ;-)