Pay It Forward Book Trailer Assignment

Pay It Forward, the new novel by Cambria writer Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of the novel Funerals for Horses,'' begins in 2002 with a reporter telling us something both disarmingly simple and mind-bendingly sweeping: A 12-year-old boy changed the world, for the better.

Much better, in fact. Created a world that almost all of us would like to see, and very few, if any of us, believe we will ever see. How and why this happened the reporter will try to reconstruct for us as he digs into the origins of a global phenomenon called "The Movement.''

Trevor, the boy at the center of this fable, is an only child. His mother, Arlene, works two jobs and is an alcoholic trying to quit booze. Trevor's father, Ricky, has abandoned them. Arlene is wounded and tough and clings to a bankrupt hope that Ricky loves them and will return. A wrecked truck in their front yard mocks Arlene's illusions. Before he left, Ricky had her co-sign for the truck, then wrecked it, and she's trying to pay off a debt on a truck that will never run again. She resorts to cannibalizing it and selling its parts, and trying to beat it to death with Trevor's baseball bat.

As dysfunctional as that sounds, Arlene is a good mother, and Trevor is a remarkably sane and balanced boy. Into Trevor's life comes teacher, Reuben St. Clair, new to the small town of Atascadero.

Reuben is a black Vietnam veteran with a face shockingly disfigured by a grenade accident. He's a solitary man who has retreated far into himself. Reuben has moved so often that he no longer bothers to unpack his belongings after months of living in a new house. He doesn't expect people to deal honestly with his wounded face, to see behind it. But Trevor isn't put off by Reuben's face. He simply asks him what happened, and Reuben's defenses crack ever so slightly.

Reuben challenges his new students to come up with an idea, that they have to put into effect, that has the potential to change the world. Most students ignore the challenge. A few attempt something in order to get a better grade. Only Trevor takes it to heart.

What follows is told by a cast of characters ranging from an old woman alone in her home with a ragged garden she's too weak to care for, to a homeless man destroyed by drugs, to two polite grocery store clerks, to a woman on the Golden Gate Bridge ready to jump, to a brutal thug, to a young gay man continually beaten by homophobes, to the reporter narrating the tale, to Trevor's teacher and his mother and, eventually, his father.

All of them are eventually touched by Trevor's idea that if he chooses three people and does something good for them, something important, and they do good deeds for three other people, and so forth, it will create a human chain letter that can go on forever.

Trevor's good deeds are those available to an ordinary boy, albeit an extraordinary one. He gives the homeless man his $35-a-week paper route. He spends his weekends and afternoons restoring the old woman's garden to its tended state. And, for his third deed, he tries to bring together a man and a woman he believes could love each other and thereby escape their crushing loneliness: his mother and his wounded teacher. All the characters speak in their own voices of their experience with Trevor's idea of "paying forward'' a gift they have miraculously received. Some of them know Trevor, some do not. Their voices are varied, realistic and, at times, extremely affecting.

One of Hyde's accomplishments here is that she makes us believe that something as irrational as Trevor's idea could work. Her fable speaks to the hunger so many of us feel for something to believe in that can give us hope for a future that looks increasingly bleak.  One might assume this book is meant solely for children, and one hopes this book does become assigned in every high school across America, but the book is also more than suitable for an adult reader.

If the success of Harry Potter suggests that many of us yearn for magic, Hyde's book delivers an even more profound vision of what it may be: the simple magic of the human heart. Trevor is a boy who believes that people are basically good, which by itself is a radical thought.

Trevor is a wonderfully ordinary boy, and yet he lures us into believing in his dream. When his tale is finished, some readers might, after drying their tears, reflect on the possibility that his vision might not be so lunatic after all. Parents should read this book with their children. Non-parents should read it with someone they love. And if you're as solitary as Rueben St. Clair, read it to yourself.

—David Field 

The buzz is big for this heartwarming, funny, and bittersweet story from Hyde. A quiet, steady masterpiece with an incandescent ending. —Kirkus Reviews

"Pay It Forward"—a book poised to become a phenomenon—is a well-designed confection that author Catherine Ryan Hyde has executed with abundant skill. If you ever had a yen for the utopian, you will have a sweet time with this heartfelt fable. —San Jose Mercury-News

An extraordinary tale that, like its young protagonist, just might change the world. Big things are expected of this book (there was already a movie deal in the works before its release), and with good reason. Pay It Forward is a delightfully uplifting, moving, and inspiring modern fable that has the power to change the world as we know it—which would be a wonderful phenomenon indeed. —Bookpage

The story is a quick read, told with lean sentences and an edge…. Hyde pulls off a poignant, gutsy ending without bathos. —Los Angeles Times

The philosophy behind the book is so intriguing, and the optimism so contagious, that the reader is carried along with what turns out to be a book that lingers long after the last page is turned. —The Denver Post

Pay it Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde Review

Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Pay It Forward takes as its premise the bumper-sticker phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally” and builds a novel around it. The hero of her story is young Trevor McKinney, a 12-year-old whose imagination is sparked by an extra-credit assignment in Social Studies: “Think of an idea for world change, and put it into action.” Trevor’s idea is deceptively simple: do a good deed for three people, and in exchange, ask each of them to “pay it forward” to three more. “So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven…. Then it sort of spreads out.” Trevor’s early attempts to get his project off the ground seem to end in failure: a junkie he befriends ends up back in jail; an elderly woman whose garden he tends dies unexpectedly. But even after the boy has given up on his plan, his acts of kindness bear unexpected fruit, and soon an entire movement is underway and spreading across America.Trevor, meanwhile, could use a little help himself. His father walked out on the family, and his mother, Arlene, is fighting an uphill battle with alcoholism, poor judgment in men, and despair. When the boy’s new Social Studies teacher, Reuben St. Clair, arrives on the scene, Trevor sees in him not only a source of inspiration for how to change the world, but also the means of altering his mother’s life. Yet Reuben has his own set of problems. Horribly scarred in Vietnam, he is reluctant to open himself up to the possibility of rejection–or love. Indeed, the relationship between Arlene and Reuben is central to the novel as these two damaged people learn to “pay forward” the trust and affection Trevor has given them.

Hyde tells her tale from many different perspectives, using letters, diary entries, and first- and third-person narratives from the various people whose lives Trevor’s project touches. Jerry Busconi, for example, the addict Trevor tried to help, one night finds himself talking a young woman out of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge:

I’m a junkie, Charlotte. I’m always gonna be a junkie. I ain’t never gonna be no fine, upstanding citizen. But then I thought, hell. Just pay it forward anyway. Kid tried to help me. Okay, it didn’t work. Still, I’m trying to help you. Maybe you’ll jump. I don’t know. But I tried, right? But let me tell you one thing. I woke up one morning and somebody gave me a chance. Just outta nowhere. It was like a miracle. Now, how do you know that won’t happen to you tomorrow?

Pay It Forward is reminiscent of Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Like the film, this novel has a steely core of gritty reality beneath its optimism: yes, one person can make a difference, can help to make the world a better place, but sickness, pain, heartache, and tragedy will still always be a part of the human condition. If at times Hyde stumbles a bit while negotiating the razor-thin line between honest feeling and sentimentality, it’s generally not for long. And the occasional lapse into artificially colored emotion can be forgiven when weighed against the courage it takes to write so unabashedly hopeful a story in such cynical times. –Sheila Bright–This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

An ordinary boy engineers a secular miracle in Hyde’s (Funerals for Horses) winning second novel, set in small-town 1990s California. Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney, the son of Arlene, a single mom working two jobs, and Ricky, a deadbeat absentee dad, does not seem well-positioned to revolutionize the world. But when Trevor’s social studies teacher, Reuben St. Clair, gives the class an extra-credit assignment, challenging his students to design a plan to change society, Trevor decides to start a goodwill chain. To begin, he helps out three people, telling each of them that instead of paying him back, they must “pay it forward” by helping three others. At first, nothing seems to work out as planned, not even Trevor’s attempt to bring Arlene and Reuben together. Granted, Trevor’s mother and his teacher are an unlikely couple: she is a small, white, attractive, determined but insecure recovering alcoholic; he is an educated black man who lost half his face in Vietnam. But eventually romance does blossom, and unbeknownst to Trevor, his other attempts to help do “pay forward,” yielding a chain reaction of newsworthy proportions. Reporter Chris Chandler is the first to chase down the story, and Hyde’s narrative is punctuated with excerpts from histories Chandler publishes in later years (Those Who Knew Trevor Speak and The Other Faces Behind the Movement), as well as entries from Trevor’s journal. Trevor’s ultimate martyrdom, and the extraordinary worldwide success of his project, catapult the drama into the realm of myth, but Hyde’s simple prose rarely turns preachy. Her Capraesque themeAthat one person can make a differenceAmay be sentimental, but for once, that’s a virtue. 

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