Book Review of Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Name of Book: Maniac Magee

Author: Jerry Spinelli

ISBN: 9780590452038

Publisher: Scholastic

Type of book: 1980s, racism, Two Mills Pennsylvania, myths, legends, orphan, kid to young adult.

Year it was published: 1990


"Ma-niac, Ma-niac He's so cool Ma-niac Ma-niac Don't go to school Runs all night Runs all right Ma-niac, Ma-niac Kissed a bull!"

He wasn't born with the name Maniac Magee. His real name was Jeffrey Lionel Magee, but when his parents died and his life changed, so did his name.

Maniac Magee was a legend. Kids were always talking about how fast he could run; how high he could jump; how no knot would stay knotted once he began to untie it. BUt the thing Maniac Magee was best known for is what he did for the kids from the black East End and those from the white West End of Two Mills.

Maniac Magee was special. And this is his story.


Maniac himself didn't seem to go through a lot of changes while others like the brothers and even Mars Bars did go through changes. The characters remained static in my opinion and didn't feel like real human beings. Maniac is portrayed as capable of doing everything and as able to adapt to any situation, minus the racism issue, while other characters can't seem to do that. Despite that the characters and plot itself are enjoyable and worthwhile reads.


Events that may go badly can have long term consequences.


The point of view is somewhat unusual because one can see things from Maniac's point of view, but at the same time there is a higher narration of another narrator who seems to be trying to put the story together, albeit poorly. I felt that there were suspension of belief moments required; how come neither the aunt nor uncle bothered to look for Maniac? Why didn't Maniac, at the time he lived with Beale family, ever attend school and so forth. I did enjoy the eventual friendship build up between Maniac and Mars Bars, and wish that there could be more moments between the Beale family and Maniac. Most likely, what will be complained about is the whole "white savior" issue, the fact that Maniac is the one who bothered trying to do something about racism, while others seemed to "support."

Author Information:

February 01, 1941 in Norristown, PA, The United States



Literature & Fiction

About this author

When Jerry Spinelli was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Lucky for us he became a writer instead.

He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and went to college at Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He has published more than 25 books and has six children and 16 grandchildren.
Jerry Spinelli began writing when he was 16 — not much older than the hero of his book Maniac Magee. After his high school football team won a big game, his classmates ran cheering through the streets — all except Spinelli, who went home and wrote a poem about the victory. When his poem was published in the local paper, Spinelli decided to become a writer instead of a major-league shortstop.

In most of his books, Spinelli writes about events and feelings from his own childhood. He also gets a lot of material from his seven adventurous kids! Spinelli and his wife, Eileen, also a children's book author, live in Pennsylvania.


I read this book back when I was in middle school, and for sentimental reasons I loved re-reading it. I did find a number of things confusing; for one thing I'm not a sports person and wasn't raised as such so I had trouble understanding the sports things. Mostly the book is about Maniac's feats; the racism idea that its well known for comes at a very end of the book. When I tried to read this book at once, it wasn't good for me for one reason or another, so I took breaks in between the chapters, which worked. There are some suspension of belief moments required, such as the fact that he never went to school, or that his aunt and uncle never tried to look for him and why at 37 years of age one of the characters is seen as incredibly ancient. ( Kids who read this novel in 1990s and all are either in 30s or late 20s...)

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)


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