This is one of those books I’m embarrassed I hadn’t read before. That maybe in certain circles, I’d nod as if I’d read it unless asked directly. (Did I do that? I don’t think so, but I might have).
When I started it, I was a bit surprised, not knowing that it was a tall tale, reading like a legend about a kid with otherworldy abilities. But Maniac Jeffrey Magee has just that. Maniac is mythic, not only in athletic ability in any sport, his humility, his voracious reading, his avoidance of school, but in his wisdom and ability to bring diverse people together.
He’s a twelve-year-old orphan who wants a place and a family to call his own more than anything, but people keep dying around him, and he refuses to be the cause of trouble for people he loves. His town is sharply divided into East and West Ends–by race. Maniac is the only one who deftly runs between the two. He is the single bridge that gives the town hope of overcoming segregation, racism, and fear–all of which, of course, are based on ignorance.
I wish some administrators would read this. Maybe they’d realize that it’s not only people of color who are capable of crossing the race barrier. I think some publishers need to revisit this, too, to remember that not only people of color can write effectively about races coming together.
Spinelli, Jerry. Maniac Magee. Little, Brown, 1991.