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 taking care of his younger sisters and his house and covering his older sister's paper route. Things come to a head as Tommy realizes that all actions have consequences and that sometimes all a person needs to do is ask for help.
This was an excellent book, although it wasn't an easy book to read. Tommy is not a likable character, but the glimpses into his home life help explain why he is such a jerk to the people around him. I could very easily use this book as a read-aloud in an upper elementary or middle school classroom. There is a great discussion of the Cold War and McCarthyism throughout this book, as well as dealing with bullying, abuse, and mental illness.
Recommended for: middle grade, tweens
Red Flags: abuse (mom beats the kid on several occasions)
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars
Read-Alikes: Paperboy, Okay for Now, Dead End in Norvelt