Maniac Magee

By Jerry Spinelli; Little, Brown and Company, 1990; pp. 184

Plot: Jeffrey Lionel Magee’s parents tragically die when he is three years old and a high-speed trolley plummets off a railroad trestle. Little Jeffrey is sent to live with his an aunt and uncle who are in a miserable marriage and, by the time Jeffrey enters the picture, they have stopped talking to each other. After eight years of this dysfunctional “existence,” Jeffrey bolts from the stage of a school performance, and makes a break for it. His feet hit the ground and he never looks back. The rest is urban legend. Jeffrey becomes Manic Magee as he criss-crosses the black and white sides of town, running whenever he feels he doesn’t belong, ever in search of an address, and a home.

Genre: Fiction

Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12

Review: Maniac Magee is a great book, with a protagonist that readers will admire and root for. Like is the case with most quality youth literature, the protagonist is orphaned in the opening pages. And so begins, Maniac Magee. Orphaned at age three, Jeffrey Lionel Magee is sent to live with his aunt and uncle, a lovely couple who cannot stand to be in the same room and who have stopped talking to each other, stopped sharing. Jeffrey reaches the breaking point at a school musical and bolts—Forrest Gump-style—and runs. Jeffrey lives in a deer cage at the zoo, until he wanders to the black side of town and meets Amanda, the first of many people who befriend him. His many exploits—untying an impossible knot, out running, out catching, out batting neighborhood hotshots—and, of all things, making his bed each day while living with Amanda’s family.

Awards: Newbery Medal

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