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Our Summary of Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Maniac Magee is the story of a young man dealing with many large issues. When his parents are killed in a trolley accident, Magee is sent to live with an aunt and uncle in another town. It isn't pleasant living with them and Magee eventually runs away. He is very talented but finds it hard to fit into a new school in a new town. His race and his skill cause many of the other students to exclude him. One student, John McNab, takes a dislike to Magee and begins to harass him. He has a group of followers who join in. Magee finds himself caught between avoiding McNab's group and maintaining his friendship with Amanda Beale, a girl at his school.
More Books by Jerry Spinelli
FreeBookNotes has 18 more books by Jerry Spinelli, with a total of 94 study guides.
In Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli writes a young adult novel in which the main character known as Jeffrey Lionel Magee finds himself homeless and settles in Two Mills, Pennsylvania, where he experiences a great deal of racism. Initially, the reader finds out that Magee’s parents have died in a car accident and he is told that he should go live with his aunt and uncle. However, while he stays there, he cannot tolerate their constant fighting. They refuse to get a divorce and Magee finds himself caught right in the middle of their household.
In Part 1, the marriage of Magee’s aunt and uncle takes a toll on him and he decides to run away from their home. He shows up in Two Mills and he is not aware that the town is racially divided. There seems to be an unspoken rule that the white people live on the west end of the town while the black people live on the east end of town. Magee does not know about this rule and he comes in contact with an African American girl by the name of Amanda to seems to be confused that Magee is on the east end even though he has white skin. Even through her confusion, Magee is very intrigued by the girl because she is carrying a suitcase and he wants to know what her story is.
Magee continues to walk throughout the town in Part 1 of the novel and he witnesses a group of high schoolers terrorizing a young child. They proceed to try and throw him over a fence and the child’s face and body language is filled with fright and terror. Magee rescues the child and he continues to move along on his way. Finally, Magee approaches the high school of the town and he meets students who are a part of Little League. Magee begins to play with them and they realize that he is a force to be reckoned with since he is able to figure out their tricks while playing the game. The boys proceed to give him the nickname “maniac” since they are curious about their endeavors with a wild, stranger.
In Part 2, Magee meets Earl Grayson who takes him to the YMCA where the boy is able to take a shower and dispose of his dirty clothes. Magee then tells Grayson that he does not want to attend school because he feels like it is a home where he cannot stay and in turn he does not have a place to go to when school is over. Grayson tells him that he can stay at the YMCA, but Magee does not want to do that because he is concerned about his bad luck streak. Eventually, the relationship between Grayson and Magee develops as they share stories about baseball. Magee finds out that the old man cannot read and he introduces him to the library where he is able to take out books. Through a great deal of encouragement, Grayson is able to read is first sentence.
As Part 2 continues, Magee and Grayson move into a nearby shed in town and they decorate the space as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach. On Christmas morning, they both exchange presents such as baseball gloves, books and candy. They seem elated that they can share the holidays together. However, Grayson dies just five days after Christmas.
The author Magee wakes up one morning and finds that Grayson is still in bed, which is unusual for him. Magee goes to his bedside and realized that his hands are cold and that he is not breathing. After one full day, Magee begins to cry.
Once the funeral is held days later, Magee realizes that he is the only person to show up aside from the funeral director and the other people involved with carrying the casket. Magee hears the people speaking in a disrespectful tone and he proceeds to run.
In Part 3, Magee tells himself that his presence in the lives of other people curses them and brings bad luck. He is determined to keep to himself and not bother anyone again. As time progresses, he finds himself very cold and hungry, but makes a place for himself at an old monument within Two Mills. Once he is there, he meets two boys who want to escape the town and they plan on going to Mexico. However, Magee is concerned that the will not be safe and he coaxes them to stay in town. He then finds out that the boys do not have a mother and that the only person raising them is a father who is an alcoholic.
Magee continues to stay with the family even though he is hesitant and he finds out that the family is very fearful of the east end of town. Through a series of events, Magee finds that living in the home is not what he expected and he flees again. Towards the end of the novel, Magee decides to spend time at the zoo and brings Amanda with him. She convinces him to live with her family and tells him that he will not be a curse. Instead, Amanda makes it known to him that he is a blessing within Two Mills.
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Maniac Magee, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Myth, Reality, and Heroism
Human Dignity, Connection, and Community
Maniac Magee wasn’t born in a dump. He was actually born in an ordinary house, across the river from Two Mills, in Bridgeport. He also had an ordinary mother and father. One day, however, his parents left him with a babysitter. They were killed during the famous crash of the P & W high-speed trolley, when its drunken motorman drove the trolley off the trestle into the Schuylkill River below. Maniac was suddenly orphaned at three years old. But he wasn’t called Maniac back then—he was Jeffrey Lionel Magee.
Though much is legendary about Maniac Magee, certain facts of his biography can be established—including one that’s especially significant for his development as a character: he’s an orphan. Maniac lost his original family and home at a very young age, and he’ll always be searching for another.
Jeffrey went to live with his Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan, in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Dot and Dan hated each other but refused to get a divorce. By the time Jeffrey came along, they were neither speaking nor sharing. His aunt and uncle had two bathrooms, two refrigerators, even two toasters. For eight years, they even tried to “share” Jeffrey, eating dinner with him on alternating nights.
Jeffrey’s childhood experience of home is marked not by love and security, but by division and hostility—things he will hate and resist later in life.
Then, one spring, Jeffrey was in the spring musicale at his school. Since there was only one show, Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan had to attend together, but they sat on opposite sides of the auditorium. During “Talk to the Animals,” Jeffrey, who was in the chorus, began screaming. At first, nobody noticed. The song ended, and Jeffrey kept screaming. Everyone stared as he pointed to his aunt and uncle and yelled, “Talk, will ya! Talk!” Then he sprang down from the risers, off the stage, out the door, and into the night. He never returned to school.
After years of being trapped in the middle of his aunt and uncle’s silence and pointless division, Jeffrey finally can’t stand it anymore and flees. The song “Talk to the Animals” is also a wry reference to the fact that Jeffrey is later more comfortable living among animals than with people who won’t communicate.
When Jeffrey Magee first appears in the town of Two Mills, he immediately has all the makings of a legend. Jeffrey enters the town out of nowhere, without a family and, it seems, without a past. But within just the first day of his time in Two Mills, Jeffrey makes a name for himself and soon acquires the moniker Maniac.
Jeffrey’s story begins at the age of three when a high-speed trolley accident kills his parents and leaves young Jeffrey orphaned. He is then sent miles away to live with his aunt and uncle, who have grown to dislike each other greatly but due to their religious convictions, refuse to get a divorce. During the next eight years, Jeffrey’s aunt and uncle create a house divided, living separately underneath the same roof. Eventually there is two of everything in the house as the two adults refuse to share anything. Unfortunately there are not two of Jeffrey so he remains the last thing that must be shared. As such, Jeffrey gets thrust in the middle of this divided house. Forced to split his time evenly between the two adults who never talk or interact with one another, Jeffrey soon grows weary of the arrangement. During the school’s Spring Musical, Jeffrey breaks, becoming hysterical during the program and finally taking off and running away from home.
A year after the fateful night of the school musical, Jeffrey shows up in the town of Two Mills, unaware that like his aunt and uncle’s home, this town is divided. Two Mills is situated near the Schuylkill River, just across from the town of Bridgeport where Jeffrey once lived with his parents before the trolley accident. Split into two sections (East End and West End), with Hector Street marking the divide, Two Mills is a town operating under an unspoken social rule of segregation. Individuals with black skin live almost entirely in the East End of Two Mills and those with white skin live almost entirely in the West End.
Jeffrey’s first day in Two Mills leaves the children of the town wild with stories, and not just because he seems to have no knowledge or regard for the unspoken social rule of segregation. One of his first encounters is with a young African-American girl named Amanda Beale. Immediately Amanda is suspicious of Jeffrey, primarily because he is hanging out in the East End regardless of his white skin, but also because he so easily greets her. But Jeffrey is also curious about Amanda, and the suitcase she is carrying with her. She is not another runaway, as Jeffrey presumes. Amanda carries her own personal library of books around with her, a collection of her most favorite positions. Although no one has ever been able to convince Amanda to part with the books she holds so dear, Jeffrey manages to persuade her into lending one to him. From Amanda, Jeffrey first learns that he may not belong in the East End.
During the remainder of that first day in Two Mills, Jeffrey encounters several other characters. One significant occurrence is intercepting a football pass from James “Hands” Down with only one hand while running through the high school field carrying his borrowed book. This begins a trend of Jeffery being surprisingly good at athletics, which surprises and angers many of the young black boys from East End.
From there, Jeffrey makes his way to the West End of town only to discover a commotion occurring at the legendary Finsterwald home, a house that had been made infamous by childhood ghost stories about its haunted property. After witnessing several high school students dangle and then drop a young child over the fence of the Finsterwald backyard, and seeing the paralyzing terror it causes the poor child, Jeffrey nonchalantly proceeds to rescue the child. After doing so, he sits on the front porch of the Finsterwald home and casually begins reading his book.
Finally, Jeffrey encounters a high school boy from the West End named John McNabb. Jeffrey encounters McNabb after the end of a Little League game while McNabb, a town bully, forces team members to bat against his fast ball, mocking and laughing as he continues to strike everyone out. When Jeffrey approaches the mound, McNabb is sure this will be an easy out, but to his chagrin, Jeffrey is able to hit each ball pitched his way. In an attempt to throw Jeffrey off, McNabb pitches a live frog at Jeffrey, but Jeffrey realizes the trick just in time to lightly bunt the frog and make a home run jaunt around the bases as the frog hops away. By the end of the first day, Jeffrey has been christened "Maniac" by the town’s youth who are wild with stories about their encounter with the unknown stranger.
Though "Maniac" has a new nickname and reputation, he still doesn't have a family or a home. He spends his first few nights in town sleeping in the deer shed at Elmwood Park Zoo, eating carrots, apples, and old hamburger buns along with the deer and reading the book Amanda Beale lent him about the Children's Crusade.
The narration of Maniac Magee starts off strongly in third person, making it clear that not only are we seeing Jeffery and others through the eye of a narrator, but that this is a story formed through myth and hearsay. Readers must keep this in mind while reading, understanding that some of what is seen may be exaggerated through amazement and retelling. The fact that we may not be getting the full or true story is underscored by the mention of Jeffery's "Lost Year," which readers can only speculate about, making it clear that the narrator does not know the truth of what happened during this long and important stretch of time in Jeffery's life.
During this section, we learn a lot about Jeffery's past, especially his family. Jeffery was orphaned when his parents died in a trolley accident, which the reader must keep in mind as a traumatic event for him (foreshadowing for the climax of the story). The narrator makes it clear that Jeffery is not supposed to represent an orphan who grew up poor or living on the street, but a middle-class, white kid who is put in a difficult situation. This is important to the reading of the story because Jeffery comes to see a lot of different kinds of houses, families, and lifestyles, and adapts to all of them though he is not used to having very little.
However, readers should also keep in mind the role of choice when Jeffrey becomes an orphan. Spinelli describes Jeffery's aunt and uncle in a way that is somewhat humorous but almost believable. Instead of getting divorced, Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan have made things incredibly difficult for themselves and for Jeffery by splitting or doubling everything they own so that they will not have to interact at all. The fact that Jeffery runs away from them, even when he wants a family so desperately, shows that he does not think simply living in the same house is what defines family.
That Jeffery earns the moniker of "Maniac" is interesting because this word has a couple of meanings, usually with negative connotations. A "maniac" can be another word for someone who is crazy, rooted in the word "mania" which means a mental illness marked by great excitement, hyperactivity, and delusions. However, the word "maniac" can also be used to describe someone who really enjoys or obsesses over something like a particular hobby. This meaning is a bit more positive. People seem to use the nickname with both of these definitions in mind - Jeffery may be perceived as crazy because he runs around all day with no family and no real direction, but he truly earns his name and his fame by his athletic feats and lack of fear.
Finally, an important symbol to analyze is the book Amanda Beale gives Jeffery, which interests him so greatly he reads it all in one morning; the books that characters read and enjoy are often very important to understanding the character or story better. The book Amanda gives Jeffery is on the Children's Crusade. The Children's Crusade was a crusade by European Christians to expel Muslims from the Holy Land said to have taken place in This tale parallels in some ways the plight of Jeffery and of the United States in Maniac Magee in that people are discriminated against for their identity, origin, or look. Reading and literacy in general will also be very important to this book, falling at a time when education and access to books were still limited for African-Americans.
Summary 1 maniac chapter magee
Maniac Magee Summary
Maniac Magee Summary
Jeffrey Lionel Magee is living a normal life until his parents are killed in a tragic trolley accident when he's three. He's sent to live with his Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan, and, despite Dot's sporty name, it's not a fun household. Uncle Dan and Aunt Dot are strict Catholics who hate each other, meaning Maniac grows up in a loveless, largely silent house. When he's years-old, he's finally had enough, and takes off running. Yup, literally running. He runs for a couple hundred miles and a year, and ends up in Two Mills, Pennsylvania.
Maniac doesn't know it yet, but Two Mills is a divided town. (Okay, well, maybe the name should have been a clue.) The East and West End are separated by Hector Street. Maniac's first stop is the East End, where he meets Amanda Beale and her suitcase of books. Maniac goes back and forth between the East and West End, making a few friends, but mostly enemies, and for some reason never really noticing that the West End is entirely white and the East End is entirely black.
When the Beales realizes that Maniac is homeless, they take him in as a member of their family. Life is great for a while, but eventually the East Enders start getting him down. See, not everyone loves the idea of a white kid living with a black family in a black neighborhood. So Maniac (after a quick detour solving Cobble's Knot) takes off.
Long story short, he moves in with a buffalo family and then meets Earl Grayson, a washed-up former minor leaguer. Things are really hunky dory for a while: Maniac's got a dad, Grayson learns to read, they celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. And then Grayson dies. And Maniac is alone. Again.
Maniac's not doing so well this time, and ends up cold, starving, and alone in Valley Forge. Good thing Russell and Piper McNab find him on their way to Mexico. These two little hoodlums provide a reason for Maniac to stick around for a while, in a nasty nasty house filled with some nasty nasty people.
But the little McNabs need Maniac, and he steps up. Eventually, Maniac leaves them behind as well to move back in with Baby Buffalo and his mom. (Really.) He's living there when his frenemy Mars Bar Thompson and his adopted sister/BFF Amanda Beale find him and make him come home. That's right, home. To his family. It looks like Maniac has finally found what he's looking for.
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Maniac Magee Summary & Study Guide
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli is a young adult novel published in The novel received critical acclaim (upon release) and in won the prestigious Newbery Medal. Maniac Magee is the story of Jeffery Lionel Magee, a homeless drifter who finds his way to the racially divided community of Two Mills, Pennsylvania. Upon arrival, Maniac amazes the town with his feats of athleticism and bravery and is soon deemed a legend. While creating a name for himself, Maniac meets the Beale family who bring him into their home amidst racial criticism. Although ensuing racial tensions force Maniac to leave the Beale’s household, a series of relationships and events unite Two Mills and Maniac with his newfound family.
Jeffery Lionel Magee aka “Maniac Magee” is an orphan whose parents died in a trolley accident when he was three. Without a home, he moves in with his aunt and uncle who dislike each other to the point of not communicating. While living with them, Maniac runs away during a school musical never to return. After a year, he mysteriously shows up in Two Mills. The town is racially divided with white people living in the West End of town and black people living in the East End of town.
While walking in the East End on his first day in town, Maniac meets a girl named Amanda Beale carrying a suitcase. Mistaking her for a runaway, Maniac approaches Amanda and discovers she is carrying her prized collection of used books. Although Amanda loves her books and is protective of them, she reluctantly allows Maniac to have one.
Maniac continues making a scene around town every step of the way. Maniac catches a football pass and punts it back during a high school gym class. Then, he breaks the pitching streak of burly John McNab at the little league field. Next, Maniac saves a boy caught in the backyard of the mysterious Finsterwald house. After a day of antics, it’s safe to say the legend has begun.
Later, as Maniac is walking around the East End neighborhood, he meets Mars Bar Thompson, the neighborhood’s bully. Mars questions why Maniac is in the neighborhood and steals Amanda’s book. Maniac desperately tries to retrieve the book and is unsuccessful. In the middle of the scene, Amanda shows up and scolds Mars while demanding he return the book. She brings Maniac into her home where he is introduced to the Beale family. Amanda’s family consists of her mother, father, and unruly brother and sister. After it is discovered Maniac is homeless, Amanda’s family welcomes the orphan into their home. Maniac loves his new family but soon discovers the neighborhood isn’t as welcoming as the Beales are.
After a run in with a bitter old gentleman and a racial slur being painted on the Beale home, Maniac decides he must move out. In one last attempt to earn the good wishes of the community, Maniac unties the infamous Cobble’s Knot. The Cobble’s Knot has been tangled for years and the town rejoices in Maniac’s feat. In the middle of the celebration, Amanda realizes the falling confetti is made from one of her precious books. Maniac takes this incident as the final straw and moves out of the Beale’s home.
With no place to go, Maniac begins living in the buffalo pen at the zoo. A maintenance worker named Grayson discovers Maniac one evening while making his rounds. Grayson, a former minor league baseball player, looks after Maniac and helps him find an empty baseball closet to live in. In return, Maniac provides companionship and helps Grayson learn to read. The two develop a very close bond, but after celebrating the holidays together Grayson dies.
Depressed and freezing, Maniac goes to a Valley Forge historical site to wither away. One morning, he discovers two children are also living at the site. The two boys, Piper and Russell, have run away to escape school and their chaotic home life. Maniac, sensing someone must be looking for the boys, tricks them into going back home. When they return to Two Mills, Maniac soon discovers the boys are the brothers of John McNab, the pitcher. The McNab home is dirty and in a state of utter chaos. In addition, the family is preparing for what they believe to be an impending East End rebellion. For the sake of Piper and Russell, Maniac lives in the McNab home. All the while, Maniac attempts to keep the two young boys under control and keep them in school.
During the time Maniac lives with the McNabs, he talks Mars into coming to a McNab birthday party. The party ends in disaster and Maniac virtually gives up hope for an East End/West End reconciliation.
After the party debacle, Maniac moves back to the zoo and continues to live his typical nomadic lifestyle. While running one morning, he realizes that Mars is following him. This continues until one day an hysterical Piper McNab approaches the two boys. Maniac and Mars follow Piper to a train trestle where Russell is trapped and fearful of an approaching train. Maniac, remembering the tragic accident that killed his parents, blacks out and leaves the scene.
Two days later, Maniac finds Mars in the buffalo pen where he is sleeping. He questions why Maniac fled the scene at the train trestle. Mars also informs Maniac he saved Russell that day. After Mars saves Russell, the McNab boys befriend him and go to his East End home for the evening. The town of Two Mills has taken a major step toward a peaceful coexistence. After telling the story, Mars begs Maniac to come to his home to meet his mother. Although Maniac is overjoyed by the news, he is cautious about letting others into his life. He has experienced so much heartache in such a short time and is content to stay aloof. Falling back to sleep, Maniac is awakened by Amanda Beale. Amanda demands Maniac return home to live with the Beales. Maniac agrees to go and walks to the Beale’s home knowing he now has everything he’s ever dreamed of.
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Now I will be together. My name is Sister West. Lie on your stomach, Miss Osman, you need to make a ditch, I won't do any ditch. - I jumped up from the bed. Everything inside immediately became icy.