Betsy Byars Insights

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Analysis of Characters in Betsy Byar's The Pinballs

Carlie, the female character, is tough, rarely says anything nice, and is suspicious of everyone she meets. She throws insults around constantly. Even though she is all those negative things, she is a likable character; you want to cheer for the underdog. Byars says about Carlie,

For some reason insults didn’t hurt her. People could insult her all day long, and she would insult them right back. But let somebody say something polite or nice to her—it made her feel terrible.

As Carlie’s character develops, she begins to let her guard down as she shows her concern for others. When another foster child shuts down emotionally, it is Carlie who is most affected. She begins to have normal conversations with others as she grows throughout the book. Carlie is the one who feels that foster children are pinballs with no real direction, but her foster parents feel she has the most direction of all of them.

Harvey is one of the two main male characters. In spite of life’s difficulties, he keeps his spirits up by sustaining the belief that one day his mother will return for him. In this story, two broken legs hobble Harvey. In his dreams, his legs were broken playing football instead of being run over by his father’s new car. If he were a football hero, he would receive attention from the likes of the cheerleaders who would fawn over him and smother his cast with kisses. Harvey's foster parents feel that he is in need of the most support because he will not let go of the dream that his mother will return. They think Carlie will be a great support for him when he comes to the realization that his mother just does not care about her family.

The third main character and foster child in the book is Thomas J. Thomas J. was two years old when someone left him on the steps of the Benson twins’ farmhouse. The Benson twins were the oldest living set of twins in the state and had a very difficult time hearing; therefore, Thomas J. learned to communicate by yelling. He lived with them for six years, during which the twins reached the ripe old age of eighty-eight. Due to the fact that he had to yell, he learned not to express his emotions often. Even after he learns to speak quietly, he rarely does, which weighs on his conscience, especially when he visits the twins in the hospital and finds himself unable to express his love for them.