The Outside Boy

The Outside Boy

by Jeanine Cummins


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A poignant, coming of age novel about an Irish gypsy boy’s childhood in the 1950’s from the national bestselling author of A Rip in Heaven and American Dirt.

Ireland, 1959: Young Christopher Hurley is a tinker, a Pavee gypsy, who roams 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 wandering life is the only one Christy has ever known, but when his grandfather dies, everything changes. His father decides to settle briefly, in a town, where Christy and his cousin can receive proper schooling and prepare for their first communions. But still, always, they are treated as outsiders.

As Christy struggles to find his way amid the more conventional lives of his new classmates, he starts to question who he is and where he belongs. But then the discovery of an old newspaper photograph, and a long-buried secret from his mother’s mysterious past, changes his life forever....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451229489
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/2010
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 296,457
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jeanine Cummins is the bestselling, award-winning author of the groundbreaking memoir A Rip in Heaven and the novels The Outside Boy, The Crooked Branch, and American Dirt. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.

Read an Excerpt



I was dreaming of purple horses. Myself on one and Martin on the other, and we was bareback, and we was racing. These wasn't no strong, slow, piebald gypsy ponies like most of us travellers had in them days in Ireland, for pulling our wagon-homes behind us wherever we went. No, in this dream, me and Martin raced thundering thoroughbreds at a proper race meeting, like at Punchestown in Dublin. And the crowd waved their colors and they roared for us, never mind that we was travellers. They loved us anyway. Our purple stallions was sixteen hands high at least, and we was so swift on them we nearly took flight. I had the coarse thickness of my horse's mane wrapped full around my fist, and I squeezed his big, strong neck with my knees and kept my head down close beside his twitching ear. I whispered to him, "Go on, bucko," and he went and went, and we was leaving Martin and his horse in our dust. And then there was an almighty screeching howl that went up, and my purple horse vanished, and I was sitting up straight as a fencepost in the dark, my blanket wrapped 'round my fist and my heart hammering.

Dad was sitting up beside me, too, and we blinked confusion at each other in the dark. We wasn't sure what'd wakened us until we heard it again: a keen, raw and sharp. Dad's hands was like ghosts between us, and he gripping his own blanket close to his chest.

"What…" he started, but before he could finish the question, the wail rose up again and engulfed the camp. I could feel every hair on my body, and the wraithlike cry seemed liquid, seeping up through the planks of the wagon and into our clammy nighttime skins. There was a terror in that sound that was all new to me.

"Is it a bansídhe?" I asked Dad.

He looked at me like I was gone soft in the head. "Come outta that nonsense, Christopher," he said to me. "You know there's no such thing as a bloody bansídhe."

He shook his head at me crossly, and I felt stupid, and was glad for the feeling stupid. Of course there was no such thing as bansídhes. I was nearly twelve years of age—old enough to know better. But then there was a sudden BANG BANG on the door of the wagon, and I could feel my heartbeat clamber into my throat. My heels stuck into the floorboards, and I did a backwards crab-gallop until I smacked into the wall. My chest was heaving as I stared past my dad at the wagon door. He was staring at it, too, with eyes as wide open as mine.

"Dad?" I said.

I wanted him to reassure me—just a word, a squeeze—that it would be okay.

"Wait there, Christopher," he said, and he started to move toward the door.

And now the clatter at the door grew louder, and there was nowhere for us to go, only to cower inside and await the doom of the shrieking specter who was rattling at our wagon door. I stopped breathing altogether, and the door creaked and swung on its hinge, gaping open into the frigid night. The cold air flew in at once and reached my bare ankles. I trembled over them, folded my arms around my scrawny knees, and shook like a wet hound.

"Christopher!" the specter shrieked, and it was my granny.

She was calling my dad, who I was named after. Granny, heaped in blankets outside in the not-yet pinkening light, her hair and eyes wild. Her mouth stood open and revealed all the gummy graves where her teeth used to be. She looked so unnatural that my terror was hardly relieved at all.

Dad was only in his bare feet, and he made a frantic silhouette, leaping out of the wagon after his mother. I crawled to the door behind him and watched Granny deliver her unholy cries into the dark camp. I pulled my blue ankles up and tucked my blanket 'round them while I watched the horrible scene unfold: Granny, down on her knees beside the deadened fire, rocking back and over so hard I feared she would topple into the ashes. The keen she let up was so thick and tender I could nearly see it coming out of her, her breath spiraling out violently in torrid colors, defeating the darkness and drenching the camp with grief.

"Mam," my dad said quietly.

He was in front of his mother now, and he'd his hands on her shoulders. He shook her a small bit, but she took no notice of him. She tore at her white hair until she looked like a proper bansídhe herself. I started shaking again, and I wanted to believe it was from the cold, but my stomach was turning too.

"Mam!" Dad said again, louder this time, and shook her more roughly.

For a moment, I thought he would raise a hand to her, to snap her out of the state she was in. I swallowed all the billowing colors and held them fast inside me, but my knuckles stayed white, gripping the doorframe of the wagon while I watched. Uncle Finty was there now, too, and they both looked small and helpless, standing beside the ruined fire watching their mother weep.

My cousin Martin's head popped up in front of me then, and without a sound or a word, he swung the full weight of his body up on one arm and into the wagon beside me. He pulled open my blanket and I was blasted with the cold again, until he burrowed and folded us in tight. In the closeness, he smelled like tree bark and moss. We watched our fathers; we tried not to watch Granny.

"Go and check the wagon, Christopher," Finty said to Dad.

My dad hesitated, put his hand on his brother's shoulder for a long moment, like he was gathering strength for what he knew he'd find. Then he nodded and turned toward Granny's wagon door. It was hanging open, too, and she howled again as he went. I shivered under our blanket, to hear the sound of that wordless pain, unleashed and raw, galloping around the camp. Granny was like a toothless wolf. We watched without blinking while my dad disappeared into the wagon. Martin squirmed in even closer beside me, and I could feel his elbow stuck between two of my shivering ribs, like we was twins for a minute, instead of cousins. We was joined at the eyes and ears, joined at the dread. Everything was silent and stretched—only the tidal rhythm of our shared breath pushed the seconds forward. I wished for my mother.

Dad came out again, shaking his head.

"He's gone," he said.

His face was pale in the moonlight. Gone. I knew what he meant. He meant my grandda.

My stomach clutched, but my mind resisted. I wasn't ready. My fingernails dug into the flesh of Martin's arm, but he didn't wince. He didn't even move—only a shiver in his neck. A gulp.

"Grandda," I whispered, and I could feel a flood in my head, a distant, unleashed roar inside me. I dammed it up quick.

"Will we waken him, do you think?" Granny said.

Martin and I looked at each other in horror.

"Is she gone as well?" he asked me. "Gone in the head, like?"

Martin was always asking me things, even though he was a couple months older than me. He was twelve already. I shook my head and tried to answer him. But just like Grandda, my voice was away.

We stayed there while the sky lightened lilac at the edges. Me and Martin, joined at the hair, joined at the knuckles. We didn't move, didn't speak. I think he felt it too—some unspoken sense that if we stayed very still, if we blurred into each other, it mightn't be real. We tried that elusive magic of stillness, hoping like we always did that we might capture it, and it might be the answer to everything. But in truth, we was children of motion, and we didn't know how to stand still then. We didn't even know that we could.


Excerpted from "The Outside Boy"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Jeanine Cummins.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Outside Boy 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
bridget3420 More than 1 year ago
Christy feels like an outcast, he is constantly traveling with his family. He is told that his mother passed away when he was an infant. But when Christy's cousin is getting ready to set the wagon carrying his dead grandfather on fire, Christy spots a newspaper picture. This picture has him questioning everything he's believed in his whole life. Who is this woman and why does he feel such a strong connection to her? He sets out to find the truth about who he is and where he comes from. Will he come to peace with the life he lives or will everything this new information destroy him? Two words: loved it! I fell into this novel right away and didn't even come up for air.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Christy is a young Pavee gypsy boy traveling with his family in Ireland when his grandfather dies. As a traveler who feels claustrophobic when he is indoors for any length of time, he is horrified to find out that his grandfather's body is going to be buried and his wagon and all his belongings lit on fire. And so Christy and his cousin concoct a plan to burn their grandfather's body in the wagon instead of consigning him to the tiny underground space of a coffin. The intended conflagration doesn't quite have the intended effect, both depriving his grandmother of the comfort of long-standing tradition and making the adults angry. And because they are angry, Christy decides that he will not show anyone the newspaper clipping that fluttered, still intact, out of the fire. The clipping shows his mother, an unknown man, and a baby. Meanwhile, Christy's father and aunt have determined that it is time for Christy and his cousin Martin to make their first communion and so they stay in one place far longer than they ever have before, giving Christy time to unravel the mystery of the mother who died in giving him birth.Cummins has drawn a beautiful and eloquent picture of gyspy life in Ireland and created a charming and insightful character in young Christy. Christy tells his own story in the vernacular but it is fairly easy to adapt to this non-traditional narrative voice. In searching for his mother, Christy is, in many ways, searching for himself and his place in the world. He both envies a settled life and he scorns it as unthinkable. He faces prejudice from the local townspeople, causing him to carefully evaluate the lifestyle in which he has been raised. He knows his father is a good man but what of the loose interpretation of morality as compared to the town folk? He finds good and caring people who value and accept him despite his gypsy heritage. And he finds the help he needs to unravel the threads of his personal history.Christy is on a quest and what he finds will shake many of his assumptions, shaping who he will become as he goes forward in life. This novel of exploration, mysteries long-buried and unacknowledged, and a way of life slowly dying out is an unexpected delight to read. Cummins has written an engaging and evocative coming of age novel about an unusual boy. Thoughtful and respectful, loaded full of gyspy tradition and reasoning, this story happily satisfies.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Eleven year old Christy has lived his whole life on the road ¿ a ¿traveler¿ in Ireland ¿ along with his grandparents, father, aunt, uncle and cousins. Martin, the cousin closest to Christy in age, is his constant companion and friend. When Christy¿s grandda dies unexpectedly, the family decides to stop traveling for a time in order to facilitate getting Christy and Martin¿s Communion.Christy soon discovers that enrolling in school doesn¿t make him any more acceptable to the townspeople. In fact, living among them, he soon begins to question the flexible morality with which he has been brought up. For example, is stealing to fill an empty belly the same as stealing something one covets?When Christy discovers a worn out newspaper clipping of his mother (who he believes has died giving birth to him), the mystery of his past surfaces¿and Christy goes on a search to not only discover his true identity, but to determine whether or not his past will impact his future.The Outside Boy is a coming of age story dropped into the rich history of Ireland¿s gypsies during the mid-twentieth century. Christy is a typical boy in many ways, but his alienation and isolation from the larger world have worked together to make him question the life his family has led. Despite the love of his family, he carries with him the guilt of his mother¿s death and wonders if he has missed something essential in not having a stable home. Christy¿s search for his identity is the central theme in the book.Jeanine Cummins captures the life of a nomadic family perfectly, revealing not only their challenges but also their joys. Cummins seems to understand that financial well being does not always equate to happiness, and that love is deeper than material comfort. Christy¿s struggle to understand himself, his eagerness for acceptance among his peers, his encounter with first love ¿ all ring true.There is one part of the book which I did not like ¿ and I will admit it is my own subjective emotion. In the novel an animal dies ¿ actually an animal is killed ¿ and it upset me. I don¿t like when animals die in books. Although I will say that this scene was not gratuitous and it actually fit within the context of the story and supported one of the major themes (which is loss and recovery). Even still, if you are like me, you might want to have this warning up front.Despite this one complaint, I enjoyed my journey with Christy and his family. I think The Outside Boy is a bit of a crossover YA/Adult book. Teens will identify with Christy¿s search for himself and struggles with his peers; and adults will enjoy the history of Ireland¿s traveling people and the themes of love, loss and moving forward after tragedy. The novel also opens up questions regarding morality ¿ a wonderful jumping off point for discussions with teens about right and wrong, and religion.Cummins writes with authority and sensitivity ¿ she understands her characters emotions and flaws, and it shows in the writing. Christy is a character walking the fine line between wanting to be an adult, and longing to remain a child ¿ and Cummin¿s captures this beautifully, bringing to life a young boy who at times only wishes to be held in the arms of a mother he has never met. Poignant and heartfelt, this is a novel I can recommend.
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It's a well written book. It deals with an important event occuring today or a continuation of an event that has occured for a long time.
Lucy88 More than 1 year ago
If you can get past the fact that you won't believe character, plot, voice, dialogue, or thought, this is a terrific beach read. It's diverting, occasionally sweet, but seldom credible. Colonial literature -- and I'm English! -- at its worst. Sigh.