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The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins 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…
Penguin Group

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.
  • 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.
  • A blue baby blanket and silver rattle– that was Christys when he was a baby.

The Outside Boy

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)

Beady Pocket


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.
Songs of the Travelling People and Raised On Songs & Stories are two great albums to play at your book club party.

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)

Cheese, spinach, sour cream, appetizer recipes

Main Course
Traveller’s Beef Stew and Irish Soda Bread – this hearty stew is at the top of my list for comfort foods.

meat recipes, potatoes, carrots

Strawberry and Bailey’s Fool – a fool is an English dessert that combines puréed fruit and whipped cream.

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: 4.04 stars (936 ratings)
Amazon: 4.6 stars (47 ratings)
LibraryThing: 3.4 stars (19 ratings)
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.

  1. 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?
  2. “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?
  3. Christy shares a special bond with his horse, Jack, and his Grandda. How do these bonds help Christy with his own struggles of identity?
  4. 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?
  5. 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

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The Author

Visit Jeanine Cummings
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”.

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for The Outside Boy? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.

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