Kirkus Reviews(starred review)

“A white Southerner describes his teenage journey to racial tolerance in this debut coming-of-age autobiography…A touching, heartfelt, and amusing book that provides a wonderful personal perspective on a period of historical and cultural change.”


Sena Jeter Naslundauthor of Four Spirits, Ahab’s Wife, Abundance, and Adam & Eve, is a winner of the Harper Lee Award, a Distinguished Teaching Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisville, and a former poet laureate of Kentucky.

I wonder how many of us would love to go back to Norwood, or to the other neighborhoods synonymous with our childhoods? In The Newspaper Boy, Chervis Isom does take us back–to the real thing, to the variety and vitality of another era, but also to its prejudices and cruelties. This is an important story because it goes deeper than the sights and sounds and smells of the past into the heart and mind of one conscientious newsboy. It is a study of how an ordinary Birmingham boy grew beyond an acceptance of unjust laws and unfair treatment of African Americans, not in a dramatic flash but by degrees, over time–the way it really happens.

We need to know this true story–how social and individual change can and does occur: that casual, quiet, rational conversation counts enormously; that reading and working can open the world for us. Read this book and read it to your children and grandchildren so that the way we were is not lost. This is an entertaining and enlightening top-notch, page-turner memoir.


Richard North Pattersonthe New York Times bestselling author of In the Name Of Honor, Eclipse, The Spire, Exile, The Race, Degree of Guilt, Eyes of a Child, Silent Witness, among other critically acclaimed novels. His most recent book is Loss of Innocence.

Sensitive, observant, and wonderfully well-written, The Newspaper Boy is a candid account of a young man’s coming-of-age, which also illuminates for this generation a painful chapter in our country’s racial past. 


Mark KellyPublisher of Weld for Birmingham, a newspaper focused on the history, politics, and culture of Birmingham and Alabama, and author of the book A Powerful Presence, which the eminent Alabama historian Leah Rawls Atkins has called “the best narrative history we have of the city and region.

Chervis Isom’s The Newspaper Boy is a remarkable book. The subtitle announces it as a “coming of age memoir,” and it is that. But it is much more, too, a compelling and unswervingly honest tale of human frailty, understanding and redemption. Isom spares himself nothing in presenting the progression of his life from callow and casually racist youth to a man devoted to his “responsibility to bring a measure of peace into the world.” It’s a journey well worth reading about. 


Michael Morrisauthor of Man in the Blue Moon, Slow Way Home and A Place Called Wiregrass.

With a warm and inviting narrative voice, Chervis Isom ventures into a dark period of American history. The Newspaper Boy is a beautiful memoir of a boy coming of age during a time of racial strife and economic hardship in Alabama. Isom’s journey illuminates the condition of the human spirit and its ability to transform. An entertaining and enlightening read — The Newspaper Boy is one that will inspire and linger ….


Barry Marksa Birmingham attorney whose poetry, fiction, articles and essays have been published in nearly 100 journals, magazines, and periodicals over the last 30 years. Mr. Marks is a former Alabama State Poetry Society “Poet of the Year.”

With humor, warmth and at times brutal honesty, Chervis Isom captures the reality of white children growing up in the South during the civil rights era: confusion, dislocation and, for some, evolution and redemption as the rules their parents and grandparents taught them were supplanted by an alien new world. No other book about those days better explains this often-ignored side of the battle for human rights, because no other writer approaches his memories of these experiences with so much grace, humility and wisdom.


Barbara G. Bonfield, ACSW—author of Hallowed Ground, A History of the Knesseth Israel/Beth-El Cemetery, Birmingham, Alabama, and Knesseth Israel, Over 123 Years of Orthodoxy, a history of Birmingham’s and Alabama’s only Orthodox synagogue.

The manuscript of your forthcoming book was read with great interest and pleasure. Our mutual admiration of Abe Berkowitz has always been a strong tie for us and reading of the influence that he had in your life was a rewarding experience. Details of your early life in North Birmingham, as a youngster and a paperboy, enlightened me regarding the influences that lead to the development of racial prejudice. Your book afforded a close look into the mindset of working class folks at the dawn of the Civil Rights era. I could not put it down and found myself reading into the wee hours in order to follow you on your trek from childhood to young adult in a neighborhood that play a large role in Birmingham’s history.

There should be great interest, not only locally, but also nationally in a book that is so connected with the history of Birmingham and Civil Rights.


Charles Kinnaird author of the Not Dark Yet blog

I just finished reading a very important book. The Newspaper Boy, by Chervis Isom, is a well-written and entertaining memoir, subtitled, “Coming of age in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights era.” I first met Chervis a few years ago at the Alabama Writers’ Conclave and have always enjoyed my conversations with him. When news of his book came out, I was eager to get a copy.

The Newspaper Boy is fascinating on several different levels. It is delightful and engaging as a story about a boy growing up in a working class family, going to school, discovering girls, and getting his first job delivering papers. It is also an important first-hand account of an historical time in the city of Birmingham. I have written before on this blog about civil rights and growing up in the Deep South under the apartheid of racial segregation, but in reading Chervis Isom’s memoir, I gained a much clearer picture of what was happening in Birmingham during those days leading up to the civil rights movement. I learned important details about how local government was structured, and how speeches by a rabble-rousing Ace Carter of the White Citizens Council revved up the populace in an attempt to preserve segregation. I also learned about the important work of some open-minded civic leaders such as David Vann and Abraham Berkowitz.

It was inspiring for me to read about how an ordinary young fellow growing up in a society steeped in racism began to question a way of life that had once been accepted without question. It is a story about being able to listen to another point of view and thereby beginning a slow process of change. It is a story about how a liberal arts education can propel a young college student to approach life with a much broader view. It is a story about quietly finding liberation from the shackles of cultural ignorance.