Jim the Boy: A Novel

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Both delightful and wise, Jim the Boy brilliantly captures the pleasures and fears of youth at a time when America itself was young and struggling to come into its own.
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Both delightful and wise, Jim the Boy brilliantly captures the pleasures and fears of youth at a time when America itself was young and struggling to come into its own.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
...an old fashioned novel that perfectly captures the innocence and confusion and wonder of childhood...manner in which the story is told suggest the certainty of an immensely gifted writer...rich and satisfying, but wholesome just the same..." (Chicago Tribune, 5/28/00)

Washington Post Book World
...excels at describing the intangible...wonderful set pieces...soft and smooth and comfortable....
Paul Gray
When the book opens, Jim has never traveled more than 30 miles from Aliceville. What he doesn't know about the world would fill many, many books; what he learns during a year deftly fills this one.
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
This "wonderful, light-hearted" first novel provides a portrait of a 10-year-old boy growing up in Depression-era North Carolina with his widowed mother and her bachelor brothers. Writing so descriptive "you can smell the earth and touch the corn," with characters that "shine like beacons lighting Jim's path to manhood." "You'll remember this year in Jim's life long after you've closed the book." Dissenters bray: Suitable for the "Laura Ingalls Wilder crowd."
...a work of depth, sensitivity, poise and power...superb debut novel...
— 6/00
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Simple, resonant sentences and a wealth of honest feeling propel this tracing of a 10-year-old boy's coming of age in Aliceville, N.C., in the 1930s. Earley's debut novel (after his well-received collection Here We Are in Paradise) carries us, in charmingly ungangly fashion, toward its moving, final epiphanies. Quizzical, innocent Jim Glass lives on a farm with his widowed mother and three uncles, who provide companionship for the boy and offer casual wisdom on life's travails. Jim's father's sudden death at age 23 left a wake of tenderness as his legacy, so much so that Jim's mother still feels married even after his death. However, she will never speak to her father-in-law, who has spent some time in jail and is a despicable loner with a rumored penchant for illegally distilled whiskey. The stormy background Earley provides makes Jim's openness and na vet all the more haunting. The narrative develops as a series of loosely related, moving anecdotes: the tragic story behind Aliceville's name, a trip with an uncle to buy a horse that becomes a lesson in the transience of corporeal life, a race up a greased pole at a carnival that casts a new light on Jim's bonds with another boy, Jim's best friend's struggle with polio, Jim's mother's resistance to a suitor, and the introduction of electricity to Aliceville on Christmas Eve. In roundabout fashion, and in simple, often poetic prose, Earley brings his protagonist to knowledge of his identity. The dramatic and entrancing growth of this wisdom may strike some readers as overly sentimental. Nevertheless, the closure the book achieves is solid and well-earned. 7-city author tour. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Chicago Tribune
"...an old fashioned novel that perfectly captures the innocence and confusion and wonder of childhood...manner in which the story is told suggest the certainty of an immensely gifted writer...rich and satisfying, but wholesome just the same..." (Chicago Tribune, 5/28/00)

Publishers Weekly
"Simple, resonant sentences and a wealth of honest feeling...carries us, in charmingly ungangly fashion, towards its moving, final epiphanies..."
Washington Post Book World
"...excels at describing the intangible...wonderful set pieces...soft and smooth and comfortable..." .
Structured as a series of simple yet multilayered stories, this novel chronicles the seminal events occurring between Jim Glass's tenth and eleventh birthdays. Because Jim's father died before he was born, he is being raised by his loving but still grieving mother and her three bachelor brothers in a rural North Carolina farm valley during the Depression. The life lessons Jim learns primarily from his gracious, loving uncles deal with prejudice and tolerance, friendship and rivalry, honesty and falsehood, one's place in one's family and in the greater world, and coping with death and loss. Earley creates memorable, parable-like stories while maintaining mesmerizingly simple language and a child's emotional point of view. One story describes the day Ty Cobb passes through town on a train. Jim and his friend/rival, Penn, toss a baseball back and forth next to the train, hoping that Cobb is watching. Despite Penn's pleas, Jim refuses to loan him his mitt, instead throwing the ball over Penn's head. Running to retrieve it, Penn collapses. Weeks later, Jim's uncles drive him to Penn's mountain home where Jim has never traveled. One of Penn's legs is now paralyzed by polio. After some initial awkwardness, the friends talk amiably. When Penn falls asleep, Jim quietly walks away, leaving his beloved baseball glove at Penn's side. The stories never become sentimental or maudlin. Their deceptive simplicity and multi-layered plots allow readers of all ages and levels of literary sophistication to derive pleasure from the book. The description of rural North Carolina is wondrous at times but might put off those who prefer a snappier plot. This beautiful, slow-paced jewel is worthy of repeatedreadings. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2000, Little Brown, 240p, $23.95. Ages 12 to Adult. Reviewer: Florence H. Munat

SOURCE: VOYA, December 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 5)

From The Critics
Like William Saroyan's My Name is Aram (Harcourt, Brace, 1940) and The Human Comedy (Harcourt, Brace,1943), Tony Earley's Jim the Boy is a novel that straddles boundaries. It is, on one hand, a work in which a discerning adult narrator examines—it almost feels as if he is looking back upon—the life of a ten-year-old boy living in a small southern town during the Depression. The insights, the metaphors, the sense of events being interpreted for an older and wiser mindset, the bond established with an older reader who perceives more than the child protagonist could ever understand—all of these bespeak an adult work. And yet, just as with Saroyan, Earley is also about to speak to the younger audience, who will see in Jim a boy reaching towards understanding things which he is not fully able to articulate, in ways that a child reader will recognize and affirm. When Jim's father dies, he is raised by his mother and three loving, jolly, and somewhat stern uncles. They are demanding when it comes to work yet ready to play ball with him late into the night. They will wake him up to see electricity come to Aliceville for the first time, will stand with him to touch the Atlantic ocean, and will introduce him to the wonders of his local world; but they also expect him to grow and will leave him the space to do so. While the narrative is free-flowing and loose, it is anchored by the constancy of its characters, a constancy which provides the firm context of Jim's slow, unsteady coming of age. The novel is, as its title indicates, focused on boyhood, but it is an insightful boy who goes through this boyhood. He struggles with trying to understand his father's absence, with his ownjealousy over his closest friend's skills, with his selfishness when he has the chance to show off to Ty Cobb, with his fear and sense of inadequacy when his friend contracts polio, with his lack of understanding when his mother is courted. As he stands on a mountain at the end of the novel, having seen his grandfather withering into meanness, he begins to understand something about himself and his own place in the world, something he almost fears to know. And his uncles, because he is still a boy, are there to comfort him with the reminder that he is "their boy," and that even if he is unsure about his position in the wide world, he need not be unsure of his place in their hearts. This is a novel of self-discovery, as the quiet but profound adventures of Jim take on a greater meaning for him as he grows and expands in insight and understanding. If this seems too cosmic and serious, too adult, Earley has at the same time placed this journey in the small town of Aliceville, where trains thunder by, baseball is played, rivals fight, hard work is learned, and life is lived. In short, this is a novel that speaks to both child and adult, one looking ahead, one looking back, and both surprised and gladdened by the small, unexpected grandeurs of this world. 2000, Little, Brown, $23.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Gary Schmidt — The Five Owls, January/February 2001 (Vol. 15 No. 3)
This novel has received a lot of good press, and librarians will probably consider adding it to collections, but for whom is it meant? On one hand the story of a 10-year-old boy in rural North Carolina in the 1930s seems meant for younger readers, especially given its simple style and vocabulary. But will younger readers warm up to the episodic plot and lack of action? The care with which the boy's bachelor uncles help raise Jim might touch the hearts of adult readers. They will respond to the sentimental depiction of an age gone by, but will they be satisfied with the flatness of the characterizations? The interview with the author included in the Reading Group Guide may provide a clue to Earley's intention. He names Willa Cather, especially My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop, as an essential influence in his work, and the reader can see his point. But what Cather makes resonant—the lost past, the wild American landscape, childhood in small towns—Earley makes only handsome. Jim the Boy strains for greatness, a little like The Old Man and the Sea. The book is stately and inoffensive; it even mulls over an archetype or two. Jim's father died before he was born and Jim must face up to his crotchety, reclusive grandfather and understand his mother's loneliness and need. A pleasant story of childhood in a long-ago America, this novel reminded me oddly of Bridges of Madison County, a simple story of adultery in the hinterlands. Both are small books, quick reads that give a sense that something important, elemental even, may have been said. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Little Brown,Back Bay Books, 239p., $12.95. Ages 13 to adult. Reviewer: Michael P. Healy; English Teacher, Wood River H.S., Hailey, ID , September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
Children's Literature
Though marketed for adults, this gem of a first novel features a young protagonist and the straightforward storytelling and wholesome humor often found in books for young readers. Somewhat reminiscent of Gary Paulsen's warm and funny novel, Harris and Me, it begins with Jim anticipating the double-digit status of his tenth birthday. The story is filled with the simple, but meaningful occurrences of growing up in rural North Carolina during the Depression. Jim is guided through life's early lessons by three uncles who hand out sage-but-subtle advice, unmerciful-but-good-natured teasing, and tough-but-unwavering love. There are many memorable scenes that will grab young readers--discovering how hard it is to hoe a row of corn, or win a greasy pole-climbing contest, or play baseball better than the town boys. It has episodes that are poignant, humorous and accessible to all ages, especially if read aloud. However, when read as a whole, Jim's appealingly naïve point-of-view, while wonderfully telling and entertaining to nostalgic adults, may not engage middle grade readers or interest young adults. The old-fashioned charm and nostalgia of coming-of-age in the 1930s seem constructed more for adult appreciation, and except in selected excerpts, probably will not spin the same magic for younger readers. 2000, Little Brown,
Library Journal
This is the story of the tenth year in the life of Jim Glass, a boy growing up in fictional Aliceville, NC, in 1934. Though well read by L.J. Ganser and nicely produced, there just isn't much novel in the container. Earley's talent for description is fine, but description alone doesn't provoke a sense of nostalgia for simpler ways, simpler times. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of character growth, not much insight into the preteen mind or into country or town life in Carolina during the Depression. So, what is it? Some short stories with a set of common characters; not much happening, no easily discernible plot. A fatherless boy is raised by his mother and his three uncles. Things happen, some of which are mildly interesting, and the boy grows a little older tape by tape, chapter by chapter. Recommended for those interested in the 1930s South or in Southern writers.--Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
[A] dazzling first novel...By the end of this book, the life of this boy and his family blaze at you like a whole town of lights.
The genius of a novel like this is Earley's trust in the purity of his style and the plainness of his story. Pergaps all things done very well look simple. This isn't a book for children, but I reak a few chapters to my family, and all of us, from eight uears old and up, were captivated.
Christian Science Monitor
Walter Kirn
Tony Earley's first novel returns to basics, back to modernness in the old sense of the word. It's not a big book, just a good one -- and in this instance 'good' is higher praise than 'great' . . . A novel that does one thing memorably instead of many things forgettably.
The New York Times Book Review
Janet Maslin
[The story] has the stealth aspect of something intended for young readers in an innocent, less cynical time. In fact, 'Jim the Boy' is anything but quaint. Mr. Earley may not have invented the coming-of-age novel, but he streamlines and reawakens the genre with this swift, lovely book.
The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316198950
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 4/1/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 223,760
  • Age range: 12 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Read an Excerpt



During the night something like a miracle happened: Jim's age grew an extra digit. He was nine years old when he went to sleep, but ten years old when he woke up. The extra number had weight, like a muscle, and Jim hefted it like a prize. The uncles' ages each contained two numbers, and now Jim's age contained two numbers as well. He smiled and stretched and sniffed the morning. Wood smoke; biscuits baking; the cool, rivery smell of dew. Something not quite daylight looked in his window, and something not quite darkness stared back out. A tired cricket sang itself to sleep. The cricket had worked all night. Jim rose to meet the waiting day.

Jim's mother opened the stove door with a dishrag. Mama was tall and pale and handsome; her neck was long and white. Although she was not yet thirty years old, she wore a long, black skirt that had belonged to her mother. The skirt did not make her seem older, but rather made the people in the room around her feel odd, as if they had wandered into an old photograph, and did not know how to behave. On the days Mama wore her mother's long clothes, Jim didn't let the screen door slam.

"There he is," Mama said. "The birthday boy."

Jim's heart rose up briefly, like a scrap of paper on a breath of wind, and then quickly settled back to the ground. His love for his mother was tethered by a sympathy Jim felt knotted in the dark of his stomach. The death of Jim's father had broken something inside her that had not healed. She pulled the heaviness that had once been grief behind her like a plow. The uncles, the women of the church, the people of the town, hadlong since given up on trying to talk her into leaving the plow where it lay. Instead they grew used to stepping over, or walking inside, the deep furrows she left in her wake. Jim knew only that his mother was sad, and that he figured somehow in her sadness. When she leaned over to kiss him, the lilaced smell of her cheek was as sweet and sad at once as the smell of freshly turned earth in the churchyard.

"Oh, Jimmy," she said. "How in the world did you get to be ten years old?" "I don't know, Mama," Jim said, which was the truth. He was as amazed by the fact as she was. He had been alive for ten years; his father, who had also been named Jim Glass, had been dead for ten years and a week. It was a lot to think about before breakfast.

Mama put the biscuits she pulled from the oven into a straw basket. Jim carried the basket into the dining room. The uncles sat around the long table.

"Who's that?" Uncle Coran said.

"I don't know," said Uncle Al.

"He sure is funny-looking, whoever he is," said Uncle Zeno.

"Y'all know who I am," said Jim.

"Can't say that we do," said Uncle Coran.

"I'm Jim."

"Howdy," said Uncle Al.

"Y'all stop it," Jim said.

The uncles were tall, skinny men with broad shoulders and big hands. Every morning they ate between them two dozen biscuits and a dozen scrambled eggs and a platter of ham. They washed it all down with a pot of black coffee and tall glasses of fresh milk.

"Those biscuits you got there, Jim?" said Uncle Zeno.

Jim nodded.

"Better sit down, then."

In all things Jim strove to be like the uncles. He ate biscuits and eggs until he thought he was going to be sick. When Uncle Zeno finally said, "You think you got enough to eat, Doc?" Jim dropped his fork as if he had received a pardon. Uncle Zeno was Jim's oldest uncle. His age was considerable, up in the forties somewhere. Uncle Coran and Uncle Al were twins. Each of them swore that he did not look like the other one, which of course wasn't true. They looked exactly alike, until you knew them, and sometimes even then. Not one of the uncles found it funny that they lived in identical houses. Uncle Al and Uncle Coran built their houses when they were young men, but, like Uncle Zeno, they never took wives. Most of the rooms in their houses didn't even have furniture; only Uncle Zeno's house had a cookstove.

Jim's mother cooked and cleaned for the uncles. When she said it was too much, the uncles hired a woman to help her. Uncle Coran ran the feed store and cotton gin. Uncle Al managed the farms. Uncle Zeno farmed with Uncle Al and operated the gristmill on Saturday mornings. As the head of the family he kept an eye on everyone else. Occasionally the uncles grew cross with each other, and, for a few days, Uncle Al and Uncle Coran would retire to their houses immediately after supper. There they sat by their own fires, or on their own porches, and kept their own counsel until their anger passed. In general, however, everyone in the family got along well with everyone else; to Jim, the sound of harsh words would always strike his ear as oddly as a hymn played in the wrong key.

Jim patted his stomach. "That ought to hold me till dinner," he said.

"You ate a right smart," Uncle Coran said.

"Well," said Jim, "I am ten years old now."

"My, my," said Uncle Al.

"I've been thinking it's about time for me to go to work with y'all," Jim said.

"Hmm," said Uncle Zeno.

"I thought maybe you could use some help hoeing that corn."

"We can usually put a good hand to work," Uncle Zeno said. "You a good hand?"

"Yes, sir," said Jim.

"You ain't afraid to work?"

"No, sir."

"What do you say, boys?" Uncle Zeno said.

Uncle Al and Uncle Coran looked at each other. Uncle Coran winked.

"He'll do, I guess," said Uncle Al.

"Let's get at it, then," said Uncle Zeno.

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Reading Group Guide

1. How do Jim's uncles each play the role of father-figure? Do they make up for his father's absence? Should Jim's mother have remarried when she had the chance in order to give Jim a "real" father?

2. Both the setting and Jim's life have a simple quality, yet through each flows a more complicated undercurrent. How do the setting and era reflect Jim's character?

3. Why does Uncle Zeno take Jim on the trip out of town? What do the incident with the horses and his first view of the ocean teach him?

4. Jim's mother turned down the marriage proposal because she believed she had already met and married her one eternal love. Do you believe, as she does, in the idea of eternal love?

5. Why did Jim feel such a strong sense of rivalry toward Penn? What about their pasts and their families' pasts gave them a special bond?

6. Jim has moments of selfishness. How does he begin to take responsibility for his actions as he grows older?

7. In just one year, both Jim and the United States experienced tremendous change. How does Earley incorporate the evolving society into Jim's story? Think about education, the economy, electricity, transportation, race relations, and polio. What will Jim experience as society evolves that his uncles and mother never did? How will his adult world differ from theirs?

8. What role does Abraham play? What lessons does he teach Jim, both in the field and in the alley?

9. What is the significance of the final scene with Jim's grandfather and his two cousins? What realizations does Jim have during this scene?

10. Think about the stories that are told about Jim's father. What is his vision of the kind of man his father was?

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Customer Reviews

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( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 16 of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2012

    Jim The Boy

    This book is luminous, a gem of a novel, a universal story about growing up, told in simple language and style, but handling complex issues of life. In some ways it is a children's book for adults. Don't let the fact that the protagonisis ten years old keep you from reading this!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This book was just fantastic it was wonderfull a great job to Tony Earley you must read this book!

    I recommend that you read this book because it spoke to me it proved people can still do fun stuff in a time of struggle and be happy it makes you want to go out and do something exciting and fun, that life has many small details that make it feel fantastic here is an example from the story "Though he makes contact almost every time he swings the bat, he does not strike the mighty blow he sees in his mind" now Jim hits the ball but doesn't get the mighty blow he wants but he practice batting after because it's fun. As you began to read this book it will keep you wanting more and more with such great detail of the setting you will surely find yourself from the beginning to the end back to the beginning and to the end again. As you go through this book you start to get this sense or feel for Jim as he goes through his life in America's great depression, you understand how hard working and joyful him and his family are, and though it's a third person novel it feels like it's in first person like your there witnessing it with your own eyes and when you read the dialogue you can hear it. This book was just astounding I was so interested in it, it connected with me I began to think about how I felt at certain times in my life that Jim felt like while what was going on in his life that had made him feel like he did, we shared feelings just in different time periods.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An easy read, leaves you with a smile.

    I just loved this book. It was just a really nice coming of age book and is set during the early 1900s. Easy going story that kept me intrigued. A keeper...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2005

    Relive your youth

    This book is so well written, I easily related to the characters and the setting and felt like I was actually there. This book perfectly captures the bittersweetness of growing up...longing to be considered an adult, while holding on to the simple pleasures of youth. I loved it and read it in a day.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2003

    As Mozart is to the Ear Early's Writing is to the Heart

    Reading this simple yet complex journey through Jim's young life brought me tranquility like a beautiful Mozart Sonata. Mr. Early reveals Jim's world through a musician's spectacles-- his words are truly music!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2002


    Jim, his mother, and his uncles are good, moral, hard-working characters. A simple story set in a simpler time. Strong traits of family loyalty. I recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2001

    One you will want to share

    Great book with a full circle ending...you will feel yourself directly related to at least one or more of the characters. A real hidden treasure in a world of useless lit...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2000

    A step back into your youth...

    Earley captures perfectly the thoughts and feelings of what it was like to be ten years old. His view of early twentieth century life through the eyes of 'Jim the Boy' is nothing short of marvelous. The story is simple, sweet, and poignant. It had a smile on my face from page one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2000

    A Boy to Love

    This is a thoroughly enchanting book. One easily falls in love with Jim and his Uncles. They provide the humor and the humanity for the book. It is touching to read how they treat this very special child. I recommend it for adults and children.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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