Thursday, October 15, 2009

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Maniac Magee! At first, I struggled with having to suspend belief regarding how so much was not really believable. However, I came to understand that I needed to look at this story more as a parable with a lot of symbolism. I think a person has to ask a lot of questions about who does this character represent? How are names significant to the story? I think that the story is a lot deeper than just a children's story that would appeal to 12 year old boys.

The obvious criticism in the story is about prejudice, racism, and stereotypical or uninformed traditional thinking which can box people into totally unrational, illogical thinking. Maniac dealt constantly with people's fears of things they really knew nothing about, just had been made afraid of all of their lives. They were living in a state of fear...paranoia...about so many things...the Finsterwalds, the East side vs. West side, attitudes about elderly people, attitudes about people living in poverty, etc.

One of the best, most telling moments about what the story was really all about was when Maniac describes the things he did as dares to keep the McNab boys going to school. When he talks about the dare to put his hand into the hole and proceeds to not only put his hand in, but his whole arm and comes out without any kind of harm to himself. There is a real difference between those things that really can do us harm (like the incident that made Maniac flee...the incident on the trolley trestle) and what he stood up to...traditional fears that had no true foundation. Maniac refuses to deal with fear based around tradition and not fact.

A wonderful story!!! But, the story does require a very thoughtful reader to get beyond the surface extremes to a deeper, much deeper message. I realize that I will need to go back, again, to do another reading to see what other symbols I missed on my first time through.

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