Jim the Boy: A Novel

Jim the Boy: A Novel

by Tony Earley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316198950
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 04/01/2001
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 367,696
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

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.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Prologue: Letter from Zeno McBride to Amos Glass 1(6)
Book I: Birthday Boy
A Day of Work
An Unexpected Gift
After Supper
Jim at Bat
Book II: Jim Leaves Home
The Wide Sea
Book III: Town Boys and Mountain Boys
First Day
Big Day
An Unexpected Guest
News from the Mountain
A Victory of Sorts
Book IV: Cold Nights
Letter from Elizabeth McBride Glass to Ralph Whiteside
Christmas Eve
Letter from Elizabeth McBride Glass to Jim Glass, Sr.
At the Tenant House
Book V: Quiet Days
A Game of Catch
An Afternoon in the Sun
Book VI: The View from Up Here
Our Boy

What People are Saying About This

Andrea Barrett

With the calm, measured quiet of a writer who knows absolutely what he is about, Tony Earley renders luminous one boy, one family, one very small town-and, by delicate implication, the wide world just beyond that charmed circle.

Alice McDermott

Jim The Boy is a delight. A sweet, graceful novel that charms the reader with marvelous language, honest emotion and authentic characters who are no less human, no less complex, for being sincere and straightforward, and good. As his short stories have already shown, Tony Earley is a wonderful writer.

Jill McCorkle

Jim The Boy, Tony Earley's wonderful novel, shines with all we've come to expect from his fine stories: graceful prose, gentle wit, compassionate spirit. This novel beautifully captures those moments in childhood that will shape and forever call back to Jim the man. I don't know when I've met such an endearing cast of characters. May they live a long, long life.

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?

Customer Reviews

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Jim the Boy 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Cougar_H More than 1 year ago
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.
LFC More than 1 year ago
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...
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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...
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
HippieLunatic on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This was very much an "eh" read to me. I certainly didn't dislike it, but neither did I fall in love with the characters, the scenery, the plot... anything. I liked some characters, but those characters were the ones who seemed the most glossed over. In all fairness, the character I wanted to know the most about would not have helpful in the "lesson" of the novel: the world is large, but that no matter how small you feel, you're still a large part of the world to someone. In order to learn that the world is large, characters have to come and go... the character I found the most interesting (Whitey, who proposes to Jim's mother and is rejected) has to move out of the scene... and this teaches Jim a lesson, right?The ending was fairly pat, even for a YA novel. I don't know that I had expected anything else, given the majority of the book, but I think I held out a little bit of hope. All in all, it was a good read for someone interested in coming of age novels set in a specific time frame (Great Depression era) and locale (small North Carolina town). For a reader drawn to powerfully written characters rather than flowery descriptions of surroundings, it likely will do for you what it did for me.
damcg63 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Upon first look, a simple and uplifting book about a boy growing up in South Carolina during the depression. Once read, however, the complexities woven into the simple fabric of this book can be seen. A fine, fast read and a nice discussion piece as well. This book leaves you feeling clean and true.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Jim is a young boy, heading into his teenaged years, who lives with his mother and three uncles in a rural North Carolina town during the Great Depression. It is a gentle coming of age novel in a more innocent time. There are no major cataclysmic events driving the plot. It is just (as if it could be "just" anything) a lovely, almost nostalgic look at a family and a place. My bookclub chose this book on one member's recommendation and because it is set not far from where we all live and we were split on how we felt about it. I would liken it to the creek meandering through my backyard. Small and seemingly insignificant, it brings wonderful wildlife to our backdoor and offers a quiet, peaceful and contemplative place to escape the street out front. This book felt the same way to me. One of the reviews on the back cover compares it to a folk ballad and that strikes me as appropriate too. This very quietness or ballad like feel was problematic for some of the readers in our group. But I appreciated the poignancy that is rare nowadays and I look forward to the newly released sequel that will let me slip back into Jim's life and coming adulthood.
slatta on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. 11/15/09Coming of Age in North CarolinaAlthough much young adult literature today is dark, edgy, and/or ironic, Tony Early¿s ¿Jim the Boy¿ (Little, Brown & Company, 2000) and ¿The Blue Star¿ (Little, Brown & Company, 2008) are none of the above. Technically speaking, they¿re not young adult novels, either: Earley has described ¿Jim the Boy¿ as ¿a children¿s book for adults.¿ Still, many teen readers will love these books, especially those who have enjoyed Richard Peck¿s gentle, witty books featuring the inimitable Grandma Dowdel (¿A Year Down Yonder,¿ ¿A Long Way From Chicago¿). Jim Glass, the hero of both books, was born in the mythical town of Aliceville North Carolina in 1924, just a week after his father dropped dead of a heart attack. And while his father¿s absence is part of the fabric of Jim¿s life, his story is not one of loss but of abundance, even in the midst of the Depression. He is lovingly raised by his mother and his three bachelor uncles: Zeno, Al and Coran. The story begins with Jim¿s tenth birthday: ¿During the night something like a miracle happened: Jim¿s age grew an extra digit.¿ Over the course of the novel, Jim befriends a ¿mountain boy¿ at their new school; has a near-encounter with the baseball player Ty Cobb; and in one magical scene, witnesses the introduction of electricity on Christmas Eve. By the end, Jim gains a new appreciation of the grandfather who had rejected him, the uncles who embraced him, and his own identity. In Early¿s follow-up work, ¿The Blue Star,¿ Jim is a 17-year old senior in high school, and the country is on the brink of World War II. He is the same thoughtful, caring boy he was at 10, but life is inevitably more complicated. He is in love with a half-Cherokee girl, Chrissie, engaged to marry a boy who joined the Navy just before Pearl Harbor. Their relationship is complicated by the fact that Chrissie¿s family is virtually indentured to her fiancé¿s wealthy family. ¿You get bad feelings about a lot of things,¿ Jim says to Chrissie one day. ¿There¿s a lot in the world to feel bad about,¿ she replies. ¿I guess I never thought of it that way,¿ Jim says, ¿I think there¿s a lot in the world to feel good about.¿ And there are a lot of things to feel good about in these evocative coming-of-age novels. Recommended for teens and adults alike.Sara Latta, Champaign, is the author of eleven books for children. Although she specializes in writing about science and medicine, she enjoys reading a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. She has an M.F.A. in creative writing and is currently working on a novel for young adult readers as well as a series of books about forensic science.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is a lovely story of a young boy growing up in the Depression era, in a small town in North Carolina. Jim is being raised by his mother and his uncles, and the story reflects the deep love amongst them all. I liked the book for several reasons, including, the notion that cross-cultural issues arise between the closest neighbors, such as the "hill people" and the "town people", and that although divorce may not have been common at that time, but there were still alternative family structures. I guess the story ends up feeling timeless. I look forward to reading this book with grandchildren someday.
Asperula on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Homey story about a North Carolina boy growing up in a town that is also starting to grow up. The boy's friend ends up getting polio the day that Ty Cobb may have come to town and may have seen the boys playing catch outside the train's window.
jennyo on LibraryThing 11 months ago
I just finished this sweet little book last night, and I really loved it. It's the story of a year in the life of Jim Glass, a young boy growing up on a farm in North Carolina during the depression. Jim's father died the week before Jim was born, so he's being raised by his mother and his three bachelor farmer uncles.I'm not really sure what the cockles of one's heart are, but after reading this book, I think mine were warmed.
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