Dec 21st, 2010 by Marilyn
The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins
Christy is an eleven year old Irish traveller, a Pavee, in the 1950′s. He travels with his dad, his grandda and granny, Uncle Finty and Aunt Bridget and his cousins. This is his family. Wherever they “camp” is his home. He never knew his mam. He only shared seven minutes of breath with her.
Christy is struggling with not knowing his mother, starting school for the first time, his feelings for “Finnuala Whippet”, and the unanswered questions he has regarding the woman in a newspaper clipping that is wearing his Saint Christopher medal.
“My mam and dad had fell in love over books, over sunlight and soil and simplicity, and I was the product of that bold, impossible love. It was the freest, happiest moment in their lives. I had always been their choice, but now I was my own choice, too. I know I was an outside boy.”
From Penguin Group
A poignant debut novel of an Irish gypsy boy’s childhood in the 1950′s by the author of the bestselling memoir A Rip in Heaven.
Ireland, 1959: Young Christy Hurley is a Pavee gypsy, traveling with his father and extended family from town to town, carrying all their worldly possessions in their wagons. Christy carries with him a burden of guilt as well, haunted by the story of his mother’s death in childbirth. The peripatetic life is the only one Christy has ever known, but when his grandfather dies, everything changes. His father decides to settle down temporarily in a town where Christy and his cousin can attend mass and receive proper schooling. But they are still treated as outsiders.
As Christy’s exposure to a different life causes him to question who he is and where he belongs, the answer may lie with an old newspaper photograph and a long-buried family secret that could change his life forever…
Book Club Party Ideas for The Outside Boy
Decorate your table with the following:
A copy of Gulliver’s Travels - I tucked a newspaper clipping of my Grandmother, an Irishwoman herself, to represent the photo of Christy’s mother that he kept hidden in the pages of his book.
A Saint Christopher Medal – Christy wears a Saint Christopher Medal around his neck, the same one his mother wears in his photograph. Christy’s dad would tell him a story of Saint Christopher and how he was “a helper of travellers”.
Purple – Grandda would tell Christy that the color of his mother’s hair was so deep it was nearly purple. Christy’s dreams were filled with the color purple – purple horses and his purple breath, and he chose purple paper to do his art project at school. I displayed a bouquet of purple heather that I found at my local craft store to represent a field of wild purple heather.
What to Wear
Have your guests make a beady pocket and wear it to your party. “For a traveller, the beady pocket was like a map of her memory. Every Pavee woman had one: a long, black pocket that tied ’round her waist and hung to the side of her apron, where she kept her personal artifacts.” (Page 32)
“Granny’d had her pocket since forever, and every button on it had a story attached. All you’d do was put your finger on one, and off she’d go, telling tales. It was like a scrapbook of her life, that pocket, and it was a comfort to me, hearing it clack to the side of her hip while she walked. Like she couldn’t never forget a minute of her life with Grandda so long as she had that memory-map to guide her”. (Page 32)
After dinner, Irish travelling songs would fill the night air around the camp fire. Grandda would play his fiddle; Uncle Finty, his tin whistle, and Dad, his bodhrán, a drum which is said to be the heartbeat of Irish music. Watch a video of The Corrs playing these instruments. The sound will be a bit more modern than the raw instruments of the Irish traveller’s.
Christy associated America with Elvis. “Martin looked at me distastefully, which I know was probably because any curse on the Americans was really a blaspheme against Elvis.” (Page 202) And when the missus at the book store tells Christy that Charlotte’s Web is very popular in America, Christy asks, “D’you think Elvis read it?” (Page 88)
Book Club Menu for The Outside Boy
Tayto Crisps served with Parmesan Spinach Dip - Taytos are Ireland’s #1 crisps - ”I ripped open the Taytos and paused for a moment to close my eyes and smell them before I started to shovel them in. They was cheese and onion flavor, the Taytos, and they really was like cheese and like onions, I didn’t know how the did that – how they managed to get bits of potato to be so crunchy and to taste so like cheese and onions. It was a miracle.” (Page 93) Purchase Taytos online at FoodIreland.com.
The Dublin Apple is a fruity and refreshing drink. Also, have some Guiness Stout for the beer drinkers in the group.
Other Menu Options
Beano, Christy and Martin’s friend from school, loved beans and that is all he ate.
At Amy’s (a.k.a. Finnuala Whippet’s) birthday party, suit-clad fellas “went single file to the empty tables, and loaded them down with mountains of ham and chicken and all kinds of creamy-looking salad and shiny breads. There was whole plates of nothing but biscuits and chocolates, and whole other plates of Tayto crisps…”. (Page 235)
Book Club Resources for The Outside Boy
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 4.11 stars (172 reviews)|
|Amazon: 4.5 stars (20 reviews)|
|Barnes & Noble: 3.5 stars (8 reviews)|
|My Rating: 5 stars I loved this story. I found the life of the Pavee interesting and Christy to be an admirable character.|
Discussion Questions for The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins
Here are a few questions to get the discussion going at your book club party.
- Christy struggles with his own identity, not ever feeling the mother/child bond and not staying in one place he can call home. Does Christy rebel against these struggles? Does he show resentment towards his family for the life they chose?
- “I flexed, instinctively. That was always my response to thinking about doorways and walls and ceilings. To stretch out the muscles of my body, to let them unfold. To feel the openness of the free air all around me, unbound. That was the purest form of reassurance — it was elemental.” (Page 25) How does Christy view his life as a Traveller compared to that of modern living? Did he believe that he was underprivileged?
- Christy shares a special bond with his horse, Jack, and his Grandda. How do these bonds help Christy with his own struggles of identity?
- Christy and Martin deal with bullies in the towns they travel to. How do they each deal with this situation? How does Christy’s father tell them to deal with it?
- How does Dad handle the questions Christy has about his mother? Would you handle it differently given the circumstances?
Purchase The Outside Boy at your favorite bookseller
Visit Jeanine Cummings
An Irish pronunciation guide (with definitions) for The Outside Boy.
I was fascinated with the traveller’s way of life and wanted to learn more about it. Below are some of the books that Jeanine Cummins used in her research to enhance her “understanding of the travellers’ values, moral code, economy, customs, and daily life”.
- Puck of the Droms: The Lives & Literature of the Irish Tinkers by Artilia Court
- The Road to God Knows Where: A Memoir of a Travelling Boyhood by Sean Maher
- Nan: The Life of an Irish Travelling Woman by Sharon Gmelch
- Irish Travellers: Racism and the Politics of Culture by Jane Helleiner
- The Irish Tinkers: The Urbanization of an Itinerant People by George Gmelch
- People of the Road: The Irish Travellers by Mathias Oppersdorff
- Irish Travellers, Tinkers No More by Alen MacWeeney
- Traveller Ways, Traveller Words from Pavee Point Publications
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