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In Maniac Magee, Jeffrey Magee's parents are killed in an accident over the Shuylkill River when he is three years old. After his parents' deaths, he goes to live with his Uncle Dan and Aunt Dot. Dissatisfied and unhappy with their dysfunctional relationship, he soon leaves. After about a year on the run, he ends up in Two Mills. He learns an interesting thing about the town: it is segregated. The West End belongs to Caucasian people, and the East End belongs to African-American people. The line which divides the two areas is Hector Street.
Two Mills is where Magee meets John McNab and his group of friends, the Cobras. John is well built: even though he is only twelve, he is five feet eight and weighs over one hundred and seventy pounds. At the Little League game, Magee knocks "the world's first frogball for a four bagger." That is how he earns the nickname Maniac. Meanwhile, John is not too happy about Maniac showing him up on the field. He and the Cobras are a feared group of boys; when they spot Maniac one day "on the tracks by the path that ran from the Oriole street dead end to the park," they chase him down in order to beat Maniac up. Maniac runs for his life, and not too long after, is surprised that he hears laughter behind him. The Cobras are standing on Hector Street, and don't appear to be moving off the street to continue chasing him down.
This is because they know that Maniac is venturing into East End, black territory, and they reason that Maniac would be sorry to be found there.
The Cobras were laughing because they figured the dumb, scraggly runt would get out of the East End in about as good shape as a bare big toe in a convention of snapping turtles.
Everyone knew that one never went to the "wrong side" unless it was during the daytime or one had business on the other side. However, Maniac had no way of knowing the deeply held prejudices of the people in Two Mills. He soon learns that although bigotry rears its ugly head on both sides, there are also people who are open-minded and welcoming, regardless of which side they live on.
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