Best for ages: 6 99
Type of Book: Chapter/Fiction
Jeffrey, an eleven-year-old white orphan runaway, ends up in Two Mills, where not even the toughest gangs cross Hector Street, the dividing line between the white and black sides of town.
Not knowing this, Jeffrey runs from one side to the other, performing feats of courage and athleticism that earn him the nickname “Maniac.”
His joyous stay with a black family is marred by the tension his presence causes in the neighborhood. Pursued by both white and black gangs, he escapes--in the book's most chilling scene--by walking down the center of Hector Street while the gangs, neither daring to cross in the presence of the other, harass him from either side.
As his life spirals downward, Jeffrey ends up living with a vicious, slovenly family of racists. Their hatred of blacks is so extreme that Jeffrey is driven to attempt an ill-considered face-off between the races.
One of the greatest Newbery winners ever, this is by far the best thing author Jerry Spinelli has ever done. A riveting story, swinging between joy and sorrow, it works on many levels: as a realistic novel, the recounting of a legend, and a no-easy-answers statement on race relations.
Spinelli writes the story as if it were an attempt to tell the truth behind a folk legend. He warns readers to “be very, very careful not to let the facts get mixed up with the truth.”
The ending, though showing the possibility of some personal happiness for Jeffrey, offers no pat answers to the town's racial problems. There are heroes and monsters on both sides, and Jeffrey is able to find, even in the most hate-filled among them, redeeming qualities and humanity.
But while he makes a difference in the lives of many, the reader is forced to realize that--even with the best of intentions--the idea that he can somehow bring about a reconciliation between the races is naíve.
The wide array of secondary characters are well drawn and appealing, the story is exciting, and the ideas are thought-provoking. And the book offers a series of little moments that, though understated, are sometimes uplifting, sometimes heartrending, but always involving. This book should not be missed.
They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring. They say he kept an eight-inch cockroach on a leash and that rats stood guard over him while he slept. They say if you knew he was coming and you sprinkled salt on the ground and he ran over it, within two or three blocks he would be as slow as everybody else. They say.
Profanity: Mild bathroom oriented words used.
Emotional Intensity: Jeffrey loses nearly everyone who matters to him and at one point loses interest in living.
Frightening Situations: Several racial standoffs are chilling.
Questionable Behavior: The McNab children steal, swear, cut school, smoke, drink, live like pigs, and espouse a virulent racism.
Mature Themes: Homelessness. Racism. Decency.
Gender/Racial Issues: The town is racially divided, and the McNabs prepare for a race war.