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The Paper Cowboy

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  1,102 ratings  ·  236 reviews
Though he thinks of himself as a cowboy, Tommy is really a bully.  He's always playing cruel jokes on classmates or stealing from the store. But Tommy has a reason: life at home is tough. His abusive mother isn't well; in fact, she may be mentally ill, and his sister, Mary Lou, is in the hospital badly burned from doing a chore it was really Tommy's turn to do. To make ame ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 4th 2014 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
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Bonnie His mom sounded like she was bi-polar, sometimes being fun and charming, but suddenly becoming angry and violent for no apparent reason. The neighbor…moreHis mom sounded like she was bi-polar, sometimes being fun and charming, but suddenly becoming angry and violent for no apparent reason. The neighbor who used behavioral modification to help the mom learn to recognize her triggers and modify her response is pretty mainstream now, but was pretty new 50 years ago(less)

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4.20  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,102 ratings  ·  236 reviews

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Joyce Yattoni
Apr 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Not only a great historical read, growing up in the 1950s, communist hysteria, but the fiction deals with some real coming of age problems....bullying, parental mental illness, family dysfunction, building community. What I loved most was Tommy's growth over the course of the story. I think every middle school reader can learn something from this narrative.
Alison Strandell
Jun 17, 2016 rated it liked it
For me personally, this book just felt extra depressing the majority of the time: beatings, bullying, polio, car accident, burning accident, dog accident, depression, financial problems, slander, you name it. At the same time, I enjoyed the Downers Grove setting, the historical parts about Communism in the 1950s, and the more satisfying resolution. I do think that overall, middle school students would enjoy this Coming of Age book. It would be interesting to have students watch or read about Hig ...more
Nov 29, 2016 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Isabella L.
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thought that this was a good book. I liked how Tommy had to fight with his emotions and control his feelings. This isn't the type of book I would want to read if I had a choice. But I'm happy that we read it anyways because it gave a full perspective of how he solved his problems and made everything fine.
Jocelyn Garcia
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
(Spoiler Alert)Have you ever felt like everything bad that has happened was your fault? In this adventure fiction story readers will not be able to put down the book which is very inspiring .
In this book a young boy named Tommy and his family face a tragedy that puts their life into a different perspective. The event where Tommy’s sister Mary Lou is burned while doing a chore that Tommy was suppose to do, greatly affects the entire family. Due to this Tommy feels that the reason his sister was
Katie Lalor
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very original historical fiction novel for teens. Talks about many issues such mental illness, bullying, and communism in the 1950s. Many of these topics are on the surface level, but still can learn from them. Another interesting factor about this book is the setting, which takes places in Downer's Grove. It refers to the small town downtown area many times in the book.

"I liked the idea that is someone was in need, someone else would volunteer to help. It reminded me of why I moved to Downer'
Justin Jakstys
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book would go in my top 10 favorite book that I have read. I really liked how you could relate your own problems to Tommy's. Tommy is the main character. When Tommy found out who the Communist was who was living in his neighborhood I was really shocked. I liked how the author added in another character Mrs. Gavolvs.
Agata Wilusz
Tommy had always looked up to the Cowboys in the popular stories and movies of the 1950s, so much so, that he thinks he can be just like them. The only problem is that Tommy is far from being a cowboy. Given things at home and some of his friends, Tommy is a bully.

Although there were many aspects to this novel that were tough to read and comprehend, I enjoyed seeing Tommy (and several other characters) grow and learn. Levine definitely leaves no loose ends in The Paper Cowboy, which kind of mad
Ms. Yingling
Jun 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Downer Grove, Illinois was an interesting place in 1953. Tommy Wilson lives in a neighborhood where the neighbors raise chickens and vegetables, and are from a variety of places in the world, having been displaced by World War II. When his sister Mary Lou is badly burned while burning the trash in the back yard, Tommy has to take over her paper route. This event also pushes his already stressed mother over the edge. A new baby, the death of her mother, Mary Lou's extensive hospital stay and atte ...more
Jenni Frencham
Levine, Kristin. The Paper Cowboy. Putnam Juvenile, 2014.

Tommy is a bully who gets away with things because he's a cute kid. He picks on the weaker kids and school and even picks on his own friends. At home, though, Tommy has a lot to deal with. His mom has an undiagnosed mental illness and frequently vacillates between extreme happiness and beating Tommy for the smallest infraction. Also, Tommy blames himself for an accident that happens to his older sister, so he's feeling guilty on top of tak
Aug 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of the few that left me contemplating whether it deserves a 5 stars or lower. The characters are well developed, the setting is strong, and the plot keeps you riveted and wanting more. And although this ends happily, I couldn't get over the immensely serious conflicts this book takes on: bullying, a burn victim and treatment, mental instability, child abuse, alcoholism and violence, death of a parent - all set within the context of WWII. Every time a new conflict was introduced, ...more
Dec 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Everything about this book felt so honest and real. It took me back to my childhood and reminded me of the dynamics of weaving my way through middle school. I loved how the book was told from the perspective of a bully, but not of your typical beat em up type. He was manipulating and sneaky and you almost don't even realize he's a bully until he starts feeling bad for what he's done. It's also nice when a story can be historical fiction (although this one is loosely nonfiction) and gently weave ...more
Jenna Buss
Oct 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this historical fiction book. I don't usually read authors notes, but I decided to take a peak at this one and was shocked to find out the the main character in the book is actually the author's dad.
I would get so mad at the mom for beating Tommy senseless, but I also got very frustrated with his dad for not doing anything. Tommy is that character whom you don't like because he bullies other kids, but also one that you feel sorry for because his home life is just so awful. The thi
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Kristin Levine is one of my favorite YA authors. This is a difficult book to rate with the star system. I think it gets 4 stars for how accurately she captured what it would be like to live with someone who was struggling with bipolar disorder. I enjoyed the characters. Some of the plot line was a bit tidy, but it worked for this story. It was an EXTREMELY DIFFICULT book to read, because it was so emotionally intense. I cried several times. I read more than half the book the first night and it h ...more
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was very good - second best book I've ever read! It was very well written. It was fast-paced, but not too many cliff-hangers where you felt like you had to stay up reading. There were a lot of good life lessons and I felt like the character learned a lot of them the harder way. Even though he made some bad choices, I felt bad for him because of things in his life and I really liked him the whole time.
Lauren Waters
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love this historical fiction, coming of age story. Tommy's struggle between doing what he knows is right and his cruel actions is such a realistic issue for people. Although Tommy makes many mistakes, the reader can't help but root for him to find his way and help his family. The incorporation of the time period and the hunt for the town communist is a piece of history I think many students will find intriguing.
Kelly Coleman
Dec 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Powerful, gut-wrenching narrative. McCarthyism, bullying, mental illness, an abusive home--but also love, friendship, coming-of-age....Never before have I read a story in which I could understand and relate to a character who acts out as a bully. And the book is set in Downers Grove in the 1950s, so you'll read about familiar settings such as the Tivoli Theater and Ogden Ave. A must-read!
Stephanie  Weatherly
May 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
The time period of this book intrigued me, but I didn't love it. There is a lot going on with the characters, abuse, mental illness, bullying, etc. A good read for my middle school students.
Oct 13, 2017 added it
I personally loved this book for many reasons. It was a very touching story about a young boy who has lots of problems with his family and the way he is living his life. It nearly brought me to tears at some parts with the sudden conflicts and the things the characters have to go through. My favorite part was the end and you will see why when you read it.
Valentino Hernandez
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
***SPOILER ALERT*** Wow. This book was absolutely amazing! No wonder it is a Virginia Readers Choice Book! I just loved how to author wrote it in first person and I was in Tommy's shoes. It really felt like I was experiencing what Tommy was experiencing. I almost cried toward the end because of how great the story ended and how happy the characters were. Probably my favorite part would be at the end when the Mother put in Dad's belt in the fire. I almost cried then because it was such an importa ...more
Tommy wants to be a cowboy. Tommy wants to be in control and do what right in every situation. He wants to be able to know the right thing to say in every circumstance as that is what a good cowboy does, at least the ones Tommy knows from the big screen. It’s hard though, for things at home are falling apart, there are pressures from his friends at school and Tommy himself is confused at what is the “right” thing to do. I can tell you though; my review will not do this book justice on how phenom ...more
Incredibly thoughtful historical fiction for middle grade, in a historical period that is rare to find in MG/YA lit.

I loved the 1950s backdrop that gives insight into McCarthyism/The Red Scare that lead to rising tensions at the start of the Cold War in small-town Illinois. I also liked how Levine wrote from a unique and interesting point of view -- taking a character who would often be the antagonist in a story and bringing them to focus of the story as protagonist. Bullying is a popular topi
Emily Ann
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5.0/5.0. That book was amazing. Full review to come.
Mrs. Strudthoff
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Paper Cowboy is the best book I've read in the past 12 months!

The setting is the 1950s when Sen. McCarthy was trying to identify the communists in the United States. He succeeded--for awhile--and in the process made everyone paranoid even Tommy who lived in a small town in New York.

Tommy begins the book as a bully--an a really mean bully. He and his best friend Eddie both have miserable home lives so the reasons they are bullies are obvious. Tommy, on his own, searches out communists and, as
Mary Sanchez
Nov 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Tommy Wilson is a twelve-year-old boy who lives in a small town, Downers Grove,Illinois, in the 1950s when the Communist scare is rampant. Tommy wishes he were like his cowboy heroes but he isn't because he misbehaves. It doesn't help that his mother is moody and then her behavior escalates to beating Tommy because she can't control her emotions brought on by the stress of a new baby and the terrible accident where Tommy's older sister is seriously burned because she lights the fire in the trash ...more
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is the second Kristin Levine book that I have love. (The first being The Lions of Little Rock) This book cover so many tough issues; mental illness (in a time when no one really spoke about it), bullying, and child abuse. The story takes place during the 1950's and deals with the many issues facing the Wilson family. Tommy is the twelve year old boy who is the center of the story and he has to deal with the brunt of the issues that take place in the Wilson home. His older sister, whom Tommy ...more
Nov 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book could be re-named "Everything Brittany Has Learned In Her Short 26 Years of Life."
Seriously, without dragging (easy to do with 300+ pages) or being completely didactic, this book had very bit of heart and soul necessary to bind abuse, bullying, injury, alcoholism, differing beliefs (read:communism), hard work, cowboys, historical fiction and more together seamlessly while keeping the entire thing -wait for it- completely believable.
To top it off, the action takes place in 1950's Downer
Abdulrahman Boutaleb
May 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Timmy, a typical popular kid sometimes makes bad decisions like stealing or bullying, but one time, he found a communist newspaper, and suspected it was from someone in the neighborhood, so he met up with a russian lady that agreed on teaching him some music, It was al part of his plan. He then found out that the lady is actually nice and friendly, But then the arrow pointed to someone who he never suspected.... This story is about trust, adventure and honesty
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
I really enjoyed The Lions of Little Rock and The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, so I was happy to read another book by Kristin Levine. I did not enjoy this one nearly as much. I didn't relate as well to the main character and did not like his parents at all. There were other redeeming characters, but it wasn't enough for me. Also, as historical fiction, it didn't contain enough information for a child to really learn about the time period in which it was based.
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Middle School Adv...: The Paper Cowboy 3 8 Feb 24, 2017 05:17AM  
Mock Newbery 2020: The Paper Cowboy 4 86 Nov 19, 2014 06:28PM  
Henrico Youth Boo...: Paper Cowboy 1 5 Nov 12, 2014 09:27AM  

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