by Jerry Spinelli
We don't get a lot of meaningful speeches from Maniac. In fact, he often doesn't say too much at all. He's a man (or boy) of action. Something upsets him? He runs. He wants a friend? He carries her suitcase of books. He wants two little boys to go to school? He kisses a baby buffalo (too bad everyday problems aren't that easy to solve, right?). Yup, Maniac never really has trouble taking action.
And his actions are how we learn about who he is. We learn that living in a fractured household actually hurts him deeply: "little Jeffrey Magee wasn't supposed to be up there on the risers, pointing to his aunt and uncle, bellowing out from the midst of the chorus..." (1.11). That as much as he loves the Beales, he decides that "the right thing was to make sure the Beales didn't get hurt anymore" (21.8-9).
No big speeches here—just a big heart in action.
Let's do a little word association. Are you ready? Here we go. First: Beale Family.
Second: McNab house.
We're betting you came up with something like warm, loving, caring, safe for the first. And maybe scary, mean, neglectful, dirty for the second. Maniac's journey shows us two polar opposites of family life, and we learn a lot about the people in each of these families through Maniac's experience of how they treat their sibs and parents. For example, how about we compare Papa McNab's drunken bellowing at the little ones to do their homework with Mrs. Beale's frantic scrubbing of the grafitti off the front of the house so Maniac won't see it?
Yeah. We think you get it.
Walking around with a candy bar hanging out of our mouths sounds pretty good to us, if a little messy. (Don't tell our dentist.) But Mars Bar's chocolate companion tells us more than the fact that he has a sweet tooth. What would you think if you met a kid with a lot of swagger and a chocolate bar hanging out of his mouth? We'd think he's the baddest kid on the block and he knows it. And that's Mars in a (chocolate-covered) nutshell.