Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ghetto Cowboy by G Neri

There are few books that can combine cowboys, family drama, inner city life and still have an authentic feel. In Ghetto Cowboys, we meet Cole, a troubled boy who lives with his mother in Detroit. His shenanigans have pushed his mother to the edge and she decides to carry him to Philadelphia to live with his father, Harp, a man she has never spoken about and whom Cole has never met. Harp is not exactly pleased to see his son and for various reasons, chief among them that he lives with horses. After Cole gets over the initial shock, he is able to live with the beasts; the bigger question is if he will be able to live with his father.

This is a timely book for many reasons. First urban decay is rampant in many cities across America bringing with it various societal ills. Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by economic downturns with staggering consequences. Although there are various social groups, fraternities and clubs that do their part to help mentor the youth in their community, these groups are rarely highlighted in the media.

What's more, the book drops tidbits here and there about the history of the word "cowboy", famous African American cowboys, the long history of African Americans racing thoroughbreds as well as the inner city practice of keeping horses. Neri is careful not to overload the reader with that info however but instead reveals nuggets of information in small doses.

 Another aspect of the story that I liked was the respect for tradition. The Cowboy Way is mentioned several times as a way of living an honorable life. Among the supporting characters I liked the old timer Texas Pete. He was well respected and treated in a very reverential manner. This respect for older generations is something that has diminished somewhat in recent years. I am glad that Neri included that character and made him worthy of respect instead of a crazy old coot.

There is a picture in the back of the book of a real life inner city boy with his beloved horse. Neri in his afterword mentions the Federation of Horsemen in Brooklyn, I had never heard about such an initiative before despite having visited the borough on many occasions. The illustrations, done by JJ Watson add another layer to the story. We see Harp's emotions. Exhilaration, disappointment, worry.  Cole (short for Coletrane) also runs the gamut of emotions: fear, trepidation, excitement.  The illustrations are also good for low readers as they help make sense of the text. I highly recommend this book for kids aged 10+

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