Cover image for The beet fields : memories of a sixteenth summer
The beet fields : memories of a sixteenth summer
Paulsen, Gary.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 160 pages ; 22 cm
The author recalls his experiences as a migrant laborer and carnival worker after he ran away from home at age sixteen.
Reading Level:
1070 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.5 5.0 42979.

Reading Counts RC High School 7.8 9 Quiz: 22467 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3566.A834 Z4633 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3566.A834 Z4633 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3566.A834 Z4633 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



For a 16-year-old boy out in the world alone for the first time, every day's an education in the hard work and boredom of migrant labor; every day teaches him something more about friendship, or hunger, or profanity, or lust--always lust. He learns how a poker game, or hitching a ride, can turn deadly. He discovers the secret sadness and generosity to be found on a lonely farm in the middle of nowhere. Then he joins up with a carnival and becomes a grunt, running a ride and shilling for the geek show. He's living the hard carny life and beginning to see the world through carny eyes. He's tough. Cynical. By the end of the summer he's pretty sure he knows it all. Until he meets Ruby.

Author Notes

Gary Paulsen was born on May 17, 1939 in Minnesota. He was working as a satellite technician for an aerospace firm in California when he realized he wanted to be a writer. He left his job and spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader. His first book, Special War, was published in 1966. He has written more than 175 books for young adults including Brian's Winter, Winterkill, Harris and Me, Woodsong, Winterdance, The Transall Saga, Soldier's Heart, This Side of Wild, and Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books. Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room are Newbery Honor Books. He was the recipient of the 1997 Margaret A. Edwards Award for his lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 9^-12. He's known only as "the boy." Readers meet him twisting away from his drunken mother as she crawls into his bed and follow until he enlists in the army. In between is the ultimate coming-of-age story, told in language that is as clean as bleached bones. But beneath the quiet, direct telling there is every earthy emotion--hunger, exhaustion, fear, passion. After his mother's drunken attempt, the boy runs away and finds work in a beet field, hard, backbreaking work. Mexican migrant workers share their food and teach him about responsibility to the group: he climbs to the rafters and wrings the necks of pigeons so he can add to the cooking pot. He leaves the beet fields when he spies a girl named Lynette, but he never sees her again. He's picked up as a runaway by a deputy who steals his money, then hitchhikes with a man who is killed when a bird flies into the car's windshield. A woman who has lost her son befriends him, but he leaves her to join the carnival--where he sets up and breaks down, shills for the geek who bites the heads off chickens, and has his first sexual experience with Ruby, the carnival's exotic dancer, who helps him learn what it's like to please a woman. Paulsen has visited some of this personal material before, but showed it in a softer light. This time the story is gritty and unblinking. If this were just an uncompromising look at a boy's sixteenth summer, it would be involving. It's Paulsen's ability to put readers behind the boy's eyes--so they can feel what's going on as well as see it--that makes this novel exceptional and so heartbreakingly real. --Ilene Cooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

No stranger to memoir, Paulsen (My Life in Dog Years; Father Water, Mother Woods) returns to a series of episodes he previously fictionalized in the 1977 Tiltawhirl John and now presents the material "as real as I can write it, and as real as I can remember it happening," as he says in an author's note. It is punishingly harsh stuff: 16 years old in 1955, "the boy," as he is called throughout, wakes up to find his drunk mother in his bed and realizes that tonight "something [is] different, wrong, about her need for him." He runs away and lands a backbreaking job on a beet farm in North Dakota, where his wages are cancelled out by the farmer's charges for the use of his hoe, for the tumbledown lodgings and for the only food available, sandwiches made of week-old bread that cost a dollar apiece. Eventually the boy starts working with a carnival, where he learns carny scams and is initiated into sex by the carnival stripper, Ruby. In a mannered prose style, Paulsen serves up strings of studied, impartial observations in paragraph-long sentences. The technique calls attention to itself, as does the occasional circumlocution (e.g., the seemingly endless sentence describing intercourse with Ruby concludes with "sinking into the wetness, the forever-warm wetness of Ruby"). Paulsen fans, however, will probably respond to the vote of confidence in their ability to handle such gritty subjects, and no one can fail to appreciate the author's transcendence of the appalling circumstances he describes. Ages 14-up. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 11 Up-Gary Paulsen makes an abrupt departure from gentle middle-grade fiction with this gritty story (Delacorte, 2000) for mature young adults. "The boy" is a 16-year-old runaway in the summer of 1955. He has escaped the misery of alcoholic parents (and his mother's amorous advances) to work the beet fields of North Dakota. He encounters kindness: migrant workers help him survive, a farmer offers steady work, and an elderly lady gives him shelter. But the boy also endures the harshness of life on the run: hunger, fear, loneliness. When he joins a traveling carnival, he sees the underbelly of society and has a seductive encounter with Ruby, the carnival's stripper. MacLeod Andrews delivers a vivid performance with a believable teenage voice. In an author's note, Paulsen admits to mining his own life and writing this memoir "as real as I can remember it." His talent with memorable characters and indelible settings shines through here.-Tricia Melgaard, formerly Centennial Middle School, Broken Arrow, OK (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The North Dakota sun came up late. They were already in the beet fields and had taken up their hoes with the handles cut off so they could not be leaned upon to rest; had already eaten cold beans and slices of week-old bread from the metal pie pans nailed to the table to be hosed off between shifts of eaters; had already filled themselves on rusty water from the two-handled milk cans on the wagon at the end of the field; had already peed and taken a dump and scratched and spit and splashed cold water in their faces to drip down their necks. Had done all of these after sleeping the short night on feed sacks in sleeping sheds near the barn; after they had come in to a new day, then the sun came up. The Mexicans always outworked him. They spread out at the south end of the sugar-beet fields and began to work, and the Mexicans always outworked him. At first he tried to understand how that could be. It was all so simple. They were to walk down the rows of beets and remove every other beet. The farmers--he always thought of them as the farmers--planted more seeds than they needed, to ensure proper germination, and the seeds all came up and had to be thinned to allow the beets to grow properly. So they worked down the rows, cutting left and right, taking a beet, leaving a beet, and it did not seem possible that one person could do it that much faster than another, but always the Mexican men and women, and even children, outworked him. Even when he worked hard, hacked back and forth without looking, worked in a frenzy until his hands bled on the handle, he could not keep up. Their white shirts always drifted ahead of him, farther and farther out like white birds flying low, until they were so far ahead they were spots and then nothing. Rows of beets a mile long. Left and right for a mile and then turn and start back, halfway up to meet the Mexicans coming back. Eleven dollars an acre. Four rows to the acre, a half acre a day, all day the hoes cutting, left and right, the rows never ending, and even trying to catch up with the Mexicans was not enough to stop the boredom, nothing to stop the awful boredom of the beets. The sun was hot when it came up late. There was no early-morning coolness, no relief. An early heat came with the first edge of the sun and by the time the sun was full up, he was cooking and looking for some relief. He tried hoeing with his left hand low, then his right hand, then leaning forward more, then less, but nothing helped. It was hot, getting hotter, and he straightened and spit and resettled the straw hat he had bought in Grafton. It had a piece of green plastic in the brim that looked cool but wasn't. He had bought the hat because all the Mexicans had them and he wanted to look like them, blend in with them in the field even though they were a rich dark color and he looked like white paper burned around the edges. But the hat did not seem to fit right and he kept readjusting it to get the sweatband broken in. It was the same with his hands. They did not break in. He had been working three days now, but blisters had rebroken and left pink skin that opened and bled. He bought leather gloves from the farmer who sold them the hoes. The farmer sold them hoes for three dollars and gloves for another two dollars and they had to pay a dollar a day for a sandwich and he had worked three days and had only hoed an acre. Not counting the hat, which he'd bought with money he'd found in his pockets when he ran, he had now earned eleven dollars, with three taken out for the hoe and three for sandwiches and two for the gloves and four and a half for three dinners, and fifty cents a night for three nights. After three days' work, he owed the farmer three dollars. He did the math while he worked. "I pay eleven dollars an acre," the farmer had told him. "You can hoe an acre a day easy--eleven dollars a day." When he'd started hoeing he dreamt of wealth, did the math constantly until the numbers filled his mind. Eleven dollars an acre, an acre a day; after ten days a hundred and ten dollars, twenty days the almost-unheard-of sum of two hundred and twenty dollars. More than a man made per month working in a factory for a dollar an hour--and he was only sixteen. Rich. He would be rich. But after the first day when his back would not straighten and his hands would not uncurl from the hoe handle and his blisters were bleeding, after all that and two-fifty for food, and three for the hoe, and fifty cents for the lodging, not to mention the hat and gloves, only a third of an acre had been thinned that first day, and he knew he would not get rich, would never be rich. By the second day he was no longer even sad about not being rich and laughed with the Mexicans who would also never be rich but who smiled and laughed all the time while they worked. Now, on the fourth day, gloved, he just hoed. He worked hard, his head down, the hoe snaking left and right. An hour could have passed, a minute, a day, a year. He did not look up, kept working until it seemed it should be time for a break, and he stood and looked across the field to the north where the Mexicans were small white dots, moving farther ahead as he watched. Excerpted from The Beet Fields: Memories of a Sixteenth Summer by Gary Paulsen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.