Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward

4.2 157
by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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An immediate bestseller when first published, Pay It Forward captured hearts all over the world, became a wildly popular film starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, and spawned a generation of increased altruism. This fifteenth anniversary edition includes a new introduction by the author. It takes an inspiring and moving tale of a young boy who believed in

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An immediate bestseller when first published, Pay It Forward captured hearts all over the world, became a wildly popular film starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, and spawned a generation of increased altruism. This fifteenth anniversary edition includes a new introduction by the author. It takes an inspiring and moving tale of a young boy who believed in the power of kindness and brings it to a new generation of readers.

Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney accepts his social studies teacher’s challenge: come up with a plan to change the world. His idea is simple: Do a good deed for three people and ask them to “pay it forward” to three others in need. He envisions a vast movement of kindness and goodwill spreading beyond his small California town and across the world. The project, however, appears to falter. Jerry, a bum who receives some allowance money from Trevor, returns to a life of dissolution. Trevor wants his pretty, hardworking mother—a woman who raised him lovingly despite struggles with alcoholism—to marry his teacher, Reuben St. Clair. Reuben is a scarred, bitter, untrusting man with a disfiguring injury from Vietnam. He seems to come alive only when in front of his class. For a time that matchmaking brings nothing but problems. Ultimately, though, unusual things start to happen. Crime rates dip across the nation, and nobody seems to know why. Then a journalist tracks down the source: an epidemic of random acts of kindness.

Anyone who has ever despaired of one person’s ability to effect change will rejoice in Trevor’s courage and determination to see the good in everyone.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An ordinary boy engineers a secular miracle in Hyde's (Funerals for Horses) winning second novel, set in small-town 1990s California. Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney, the son of Arlene, a single mom working two jobs, and Ricky, a deadbeat absentee dad, does not seem well-positioned to revolutionize the world. But when Trevor's social studies teacher, Reuben St. Clair, gives the class an extra-credit assignment, challenging his students to design a plan to change society, Trevor decides to start a goodwill chain. To begin, he helps out three people, telling each of them that instead of paying him back, they must "pay it forward" by helping three others. At first, nothing seems to work out as planned, not even Trevor's attempt to bring Arlene and Reuben together. Granted, Trevor's mother and his teacher are an unlikely couple: she is a small, white, attractive, determined but insecure recovering alcoholic; he is an educated black man who lost half his face in Vietnam. But eventually romance does blossom, and unbeknownst to Trevor, his other attempts to help do "pay forward," yielding a chain reaction of newsworthy proportions. Reporter Chris Chandler is the first to chase down the story, and Hyde's narrative is punctuated with excerpts from histories Chandler publishes in later years ("Those Who Knew Trevor Speak" and "The Other Faces Behind the Movement"), as well as entries from Trevor's journal. Trevor's ultimate martyrdom, and the extraordinary worldwide success of his project, catapult the drama into the realm of myth, but Hyde's simple prose rarely turns preachy. Her Capraesque theme -- that one person can make a difference -- may be sentimental, but for once, that's a virtue...
Teacher Reuben St. Clair offers an extra credit assignment to his twelve-year-old social studies students: he asks them to think of an idea that would change the world and then put it into action. One student, Trevor McKinney, who has an absent father and an alcoholic mother trying to keep herself straight, decides to help a homeless man; to assist an elderly woman with her garden; and to try to pair up his lonely mother with his teacher. He then asks everyone he helps to "pay it forward" by helping three other people and asking them to help three others. Soon the idea spreads all over the country and an investigative reporter tries to find out where it started. There are three interesting protagonists here: Arlene, the mother overwhelmed by it all; Reuben, the teacher whose scarred face makes him reluctant to accept love; and Trevor, who thinks his idea isn't working! A surprise ending caps off this page turner, the basis for the recent movie of the same title. If only the world could adopt this idea and "pay it forward." KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Pocket Books, 312p, 18cm, $7.99. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Barbara Jo McKee; Libn/Media Dir., Streetsboro H.S., Stow, OH January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)
Library Journal
It started with a school assignment that a 12-year-old boy embraced, and it changed everything. When Reuben St. Clair wrote on the blackboard "Think of an Idea for World Change, and Put It Into Action," Trevor McKinney (who understood the concept of compounding) came up with the idea of Paying Forward. That is, he'll do something really good for three people, who, instead of paying him back, will be asked to pay it forward -- by aiding someone else. (And so on, and so on.) But hard as he tries, Trevor's projects seem to fail: a down-and-out stranger, financed by Trevor's paper route money, buys drink and drugs; widowed Mrs. Greenberg, whose beloved garden Trevor tends, dies; and Trevor's attempts at matchmaking his lonely teacher with his feisty single mother sparks then fizzles. But then, things take a turn for the better: provisions in Mrs. Greenberg's will keep the movement going and saving lives, and then a tenacious reporter tells the story. Even if the seed for this concept came from Lloyd Douglas's Magnificent Obsession, Hyde's (Earthquake Weather) book is still an uplifting, tear-jerking, and inspiring modern fable, with an extremely appealing young protagonist. For all reading audiences.
School Library Journal
YA -- Eighth-grader Trevor is challenged by his social-studies teacher to do something that will change the world. And he does. His rule is to do one very good deed for three different people, telling them that rather than paying him back, they are to "pay it forward" to three others. When the numbers grow exponentially, The Movement starts and the world is changed. Hyde uses a variety of writing styles and techniques to present the story: a first-person account by Chris, the journalist who writes about The Movement; excerpts from his books; transcripts of his interviews; entries from Trevor's diary; and a third-person narration. The central character changes in these chapters as the story moves forward but these shifts are clear enough that most readers should not be confused. A short, unsavory sexual episode results in a violent, sacrificial ending that is softened somewhat through foreshadowing. Since the film version of the book has already been cast, YAs are likely to be asking for it soon.

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

October 2002
Maybe someday I'll have kids of my own. I hope so. If I do, they'll probably ask what part I played in the movement that changed the world. And because I'm not the person I once was, I'll tell them the truth. My part was nothing. I did nothing. I was just the guy in the corner taking notes.

My name is Chris Chandler and I'm an investigative reporter. Or at least I was. Until I found out that actions have consequences, and not everything is under my control. Until I found out that I couldn't change the world at all, but a seemingly ordi-nary twelve-year-old boy could change the world completely -- for the better, and forever -- working with nothing but his own altruism, one good idea, and a couple of years. And a big sacrifice.

And a splash of publicity. That's where I came in.

I can tell you how it all started.

It started with a teacher who moved to Atascadero, California, to teach social studies to junior high school students. A teacher nobody knew very well, because they couldn't get past his face. Because it was hard to look at his face.

It started with a boy who didn't seem all that remarkable on the outside, but who could see past his teacher's face.

It started with an assignment that this teacher had given out a hundred times before, with no startling results. But that assignment in the hands of that boy caused a seed to be planted, and after that nothing in the world would ever be the same. Nor would anybody want it to be.

And I can tell you what it became. In fact, I'll tell you a story that will help you understand how big it grew.

About a week ago my car stalled in a busy intersection, and it wouldn't start again no matter how many times I tried. It was rush hour, and I thought I was in a hurry. I thought I had something important to do, and it couldn't wait. So I was standing in the middle of the intersection looking under the hood, which was a misguided effort because I can't fix cars. What did I think I would see?

I'd been expecting this. It was an old car. It was as good as gone.

A man came up behind me, a stranger.

"Let's get it off to the side of the road," he said. "Here. I'll help you push." When we got it -- and ourselves -- to safety he handed me the keys to his car. A nice silver Acura, barely two years old. "You can have mine," he said. "We'll trade."

He didn't give me the car as a loan. He gave it to me as a gift. He took my address, so he could send me the title. And he did send the title; it just arrived today.

"A great deal of generosity has come into my life lately," the note said, "so I felt I could take your old car and use it as a trade-in. I can well afford something new, so why not give as good as I've received?"

That's what kind of world it's become. No, actually it's more. It's become even more. It's not just the kind of world in which a total stranger will give me his car as a gift. It's the kind of world in which the day I received that gift was not dramatically different from all other days. Such generosity has become the way of things. It's become commonplace.

So this much I understand well enough to relate: it started as an extra credit assignment for a social studies class and turned into a world where no one goes hungry, no one is cold, no one is without a job or a ride or a loan.

And yet at first people needed to know more. Somehow it was not enough that a boy barely in his teens was able to change the world. Somehow it had to be known why the world could change at just that moment, why it could not have changed a moment sooner, what Trevor brought to that moment, and why it was the very thing that moment required.

And that, unfortunately, is the part I can't explain.

I was there. Every step of the way I was there. But I was a different person then. I was looking in all the wrong places. I thought it was just a story, and the story was all that mattered. I cared about Trevor, but by the time I cared about him enough it was too late. I thought I cared about my work, but I didn't know what my work could really mean until it was over. I wanted to make lots of money. I did make lots of money. I gave it all away.

I don't know who I was then, but I know who I am now.

Trevor changed me, too.

I thought Reuben would have the answers. Reuben St. Clair, the teacher who started it all. He was closer to Trevor than anybody except maybe Trevor's mother, Arlene. And Reuben was looking in all the right places, I think. And I believe he was paying attention.

So, after the fact, when it was my job to write books about the movement, I asked Reuben two important questions.

"What was it about Trevor that made him different?" I asked.

Reuben thought carefully and then said, "The thing about Trevor was that he was just like everybody else, except for the part of him that wasn't."

I didn't even ask what part that was. I'm learning.

Then I asked, "When you first handed out that now-famous assignment, did you think that one of your students would actually change the world?"

And Reuben replied, "No, I thought they all would. But perhaps in smaller ways."

I'm becoming someone who asks fewer questions. Not everything can be dissected and understood. Not everything has a simple answer. That's why I'm not a reporter anymore. When you lose interest in questions, you're out of a job. That's okay. I wasn't as good at it as I should have been. I didn't bring anything special to the game.

People gradually stopped needing to know why. We adjust quickly to change, even as we rant and rail and swear we never will. And everybody likes a change if it's a change for the better. And no one likes to dwell on the past if the past is ugly and everything is finally going well.

The most important thing I can add from my own observations is this: knowing it started from unremarkable circumstances should be a comfort to us all. Because it proves that you don't need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you've got.

Copyright c 1999 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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What People are saying about this

Marilyn Hayden
It's a tender story about ordinary people made extraordinary by a boy named Trvor McKinney who hopes to change the world through a class project. Trevor's story will warm your heart-a must read.

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