Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

Christy is a young Pavee gypsy boy traveling with his family in Ireland when his grandfather dies. As a traveler who feels claustrophobic when he is indoors for any length of time, he is horrified to find out that his grandfather's body is going to be buried and his wagon and all his belongings lit on fire. And so Christy and his cousin concoct a plan to burn their grandfather's body in the wagon instead of consigning him to the tiny underground space of a coffin. The intended conflagration doesn't quite have the intended effect, both depriving his grandmother of the comfort of long-standing tradition and making the adults angry. And because they are angry, Christy decides that he will not show anyone the newspaper clipping that fluttered, still intact, out of the fire. The clipping shows his mother, an unknown man, and a baby. Meanwhile, Christy's father and aunt have determined that it is time for Christy and his cousin Martin to make their first communion and so they stay in one place far longer than they ever have before, giving Christy time to unravel the mystery of the mother who died in giving him birth.

Cummins has drawn a beautiful and eloquent picture of gyspy life in Ireland and created a charming and insightful character in young Christy. Christy tells his own story in the vernacular but it is fairly easy to adapt to this non-traditional narrative voice. In searching for his mother, Christy is, in many ways, searching for himself and his place in the world. He both envies a settled life and he scorns it as unthinkable. He faces prejudice from the local townspeople, causing him to carefully evaluate the lifestyle in which he has been raised. He knows his father is a good man but what of the loose interpretation of morality as compared to the town folk? He finds good and caring people who value and accept him despite his gypsy heritage. And he finds the help he needs to unravel the threads of his personal history.

Christy is on a quest and what he finds will shake many of his assumptions, shaping who he will become as he goes forward in life. This novel of exploration, mysteries long-buried and unacknowledged, and a way of life slowly dying out is an unexpected delight to read. Cummins has written an engaging and evocative coming of age novel about an unusual boy. Thoughtful and respectful, loaded full of gyspy tradition and reasoning, this story happily satisfies.

Thanks to Angela at NAL for sending me a copy of this book for review.


  1. Thanks for the review. I fall in love with it already. I love the plot and glad you like it. =)

  2. what a fresh and interesting premise for a book. i haven't done a lot of reading about this way of life but it is interesting to me. glad you enjoyed this one! :)

    --nat @book, line, and sinker

    ps. would you be able to change your 'blogger' settings to permit comments from people with NAME/URL as the option? it makes it much easier for people like me (non-blogger bloggers with a self-hosted site) to leave comments. thanks! :)

  3. I have read about the Irish Travelers, but from a young boy's perspective is a novel approach, definitely a worthy read. Thank you for hosting this giveaway!

    cyeates AT nycap DOT rr DOT com


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