Cover of Paperboy. Photo of a young blonde boy holding a newspaper and satchel

About the Book

Title: Paperboy
Published: 2011

Cover Story:Oh, Mr. Wilson!
Drinking Buddy:
You Even Got to Ask?
MPAA Rating: PG-13
(violence, language)
Talky Talk:
English Speaking Country, My Ass
Bonus Factors:
Rip-Off Comic Book Ads, Golden Age of Television
Bromance Status:
The Big Brother Who Constantly Beats the Shit Out of Me

Cover Story:  Oh, Mr. Wilson!

Ah, we meet again, photograph of teenager. Except the kid on the cover looks to be about eight or nine, while Tony in the book is twelve to fourteen. And the kid on the cover is an angelic Dennis the Menace character, who looks nothing like how the author describes himself. Based on the cover, you’d think this was about the idealized 1950s America, not the violent 1970s Ireland. Fail.

The Deal:

This is the true story of a boy named Tony, who spent his early adolescence delivering newspapers in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the mid-seventies. If you’re not a student of history, this was a time of terrible violence, with members of the Catholic IRA committing acts of terrorism in an attempt to wrest Northern Ireland from British rule, while the British government, with the full support of the Protestant Loyalists, would brutally suppress any insurrection. So in addition to dealing with his first job, his first love, and spots*, Tony has to face delivery delays after the bombings, the threat of petrol bombs**, and English soldiers who might mistake a kid with a guitar for a para*** with a machine gun.

Though Tony’s family is intensely Loyalist, he decides he’s going to eschew all violence and become the only pacifist paperboy in Belfast. Except when it comes to his brothers, of course.


**Molotov cocktails


Drinking Buddy: You Even Got to Ask?

Two pints of beer cheersing

I have to say that Tony is one of most likeable YA characters I’ve read recently. As this is an autobiography, you might think that Tony has made himself into a ten-foot-tall hero, and glossed over the embarrassing incidents of his youth.

Nope. This is a verrucas* and all history. He includes such cringeworthy moments as the time he splashed Brute all over his naked body and nearly burned off his John Thomas**. Or when he realized the girl he was snogging*** was more interested in his older brother. Or when he and his friends meet their musical idols, the Bay City Rollers, and react like any other teenage Irishmen: they kick them in the butts.




MPAA Rating: PG-13 (violence, language)

F**k You Lookin’ At?

Tony really writes like that, with the asterisks and all.

You’d think that a book about an Irish kid at this period in history–hell, a book about an Irish kid at any period in history–would be nonstop violence and violence. Instead, we’re presented with the human side of the story, a kid just trying to have fun and wondering why he’s supposed to hate the pope. Every bombing or riot makes him worry that his papers are going to come late. Tony is shocked when he realizes how unjust it is that children are starving in Africa and tries to end the Biafran famine by holding a jumble sale*. When he attempts to impress the local soldiers by showing off his father’s prize piece of World War II shrapnel, it goes badly.

Hey, guys, check out my BOMB!

On the other hand, these were strange times and an unusual place. For instance, Tony takes it as a given that the local skinheads will attempt to rob him on collection day. He comes up with an ingenious system of keeping his money in his boots, and rarely loses anything but his chocolate and his dignity. However, after one particularly cruel mugging, Tony does what comes naturally, and asks his father for help. He thinks Dad will rough the guy up and that’ll be the end of it. This is Ireland however, so his da’ grabs a pick axe handle, hunts the guy down and…he don’t bother Tony no more.

*Yard Sale

Talky Talk: English Speaking Country, My Ass

Seriously. In addition to the footnotes up there, do these sound like English sentences to you?

“Wise a bap!” said my big brother.

One day there had been a big queue at the ice cream van after she invited the poke man in with a 99.

There was an electric shower at the caravan site that took 50p coins for ten minutes of hot water, but there was always a queue, and I preferred to keep my 50ps for the dodgems at the amusement arcade.

“I’ll make you a juice and a wee biccie” she said.

Seriously? That’s supposed to be English? I tried googling ‘poke man,’ which turned out to be some sort of Japanese cartoon, and cleared up nothing. I like my reading simple, I don’t want to have to mind my ps and queues.

The author’s speech impediment aside, this is a great coming of age story. Hopefully it’ll be translated into English one day.

Bonus Factor: Rip-Off Comic Book Ads

Page Page of a comic book offering valuable prizes for child labor

Like most kids, money burns a hole through Tony’s pocket. He learns a harsh lesson in consumer caution when he is ripped off by both Mr. Charles Atlas and those damn sea monkeys. Every kid who’s ever wasted five bucks on a pair of X-ray specs will feel his pain.

Bonus Factor: The Golden Age of Television

Black and white television

It’s 1970s Ireland, so most TV comes from England. Tony is a huge fan of the old Doctor Who, and his father can’t get enough Monty Python. He also watches a lot of US television, such as Star Trek, Charlie’s Angels, and Starsky and Hutch. This not only broadens Tony’s world view, it confirms his suspicion that America is populated entirely by cowboys and gangsters.

Bromance Status: The Big Brother Who Constantly Beats the Shit Out of Me

I’m not going to do something sissy and say I like this book, but I’ll kick the arse* of anyone who says they don’t like it.


FTC Full Disclosure: Book. Free. Harper Collins. No bribe.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.