1991: Maniac Magee (where legends are made)

Sally’s Rating: 2/5

Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee follows the adventures of a runaway boy who is looking for a home in a racially divided Pennsylvania town. Through his great athleticism and fearlessness, he finds a way to unite the town while becoming a legend in the process.

Spinelli spins his story with a mythological flair, with the main character being larger than life and part of the town’s legendary history. Jeffrey Magee is a flawless hero who is amazing at everything he does – sports, reading, and making friends. He has a sad backstory, in which he ran away from his argumentative parents, and lives on the street and off the charity of others. As a result, his character is not particularly compelling since he has no flaws and is too perfect.

If the writing style hadn’t been so reminiscent of tall tales, the bigger story of a town literally divided by racism would have been more engaging. Instead, it was difficult to get to know the secondary characters beyond their stereotypes. Magee’s ponderings on why some people judge others by the color of their skin was pretty spot on, though heavy-handed, but his character felt so unreal that his realizations constantly fell flat. None of the events feel genuine, making its message lose its intended effect despite addressing such a real world problem.

Despite the issues that plagued this book, it’s understandable why it won the Newbery Medal. Maniac Magee covers issues of racism, segregation and homelessness in a playful way that can engage young readers in thinking about these topics. If wanting to read a book about deep issues with substantial character development, though, skip this one and read any of the other countless books out there.


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