The Paper Cowboy

8 CDs. 9:41 hrs. Listening Library. 2014. $55. ISBN 9780553396614. digital download.
Gr 5–8—Twelve-year-old Tommy lives with his family in Downer's Grove, a Chicago suburb, in the early 1950s. It is home to immigrants seeking a better life after World War II as well as longtime residents. Fears of nuclear bombs and Communism abound (abetted by Senator Joseph McCarthy), and Tommy has big problems close to home as well: an unstable, abusive mother; a remote father; the responsibility for caring for his two younger sisters; and guilt about his severely burned, much-loved older sister, Mary Lou, who was injured doing one of Tommy's chores. Rather than behave like the cowboys he so dearly admires, Tommy becomes a bully, lashing out at classmates and friends and even framing a storeowner from whom he's stolen, starting devastating rumors that Mr. McKenzie is a Communist. But when he takes over Mary Lou's paper route, Tommy comes to know more about the people in his town and gradually comes to understand that he is not the only one with secrets and problems. The resolutions to the many issues presented are plausible and gradual. All characters are distinctively voiced by narrator Lincoln Hoppe, who assumes various and authentic-sounding accents.
VERDICT This work can occasionally be difficult to listen to, especially the beatings Tommy receives at his mother's hand, but overall it's a very rewarding audio experience.

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