Books by Brian Burks

WRANGO by Brian Burks
Released: Sept. 1, 1999

From Burks (Walks Alone, 1998, etc.), the fact-based story of an ex-slave turned cowboy; the historical details are riveting but the characterizations and plotting are not. George McJunkin, a teenager recently freed from slavery, and trained to ride horses and rope by Senor Valarde, joins a cattle drive from Comanche, Texas, to Abilene, Kansas. Along the way he encounters prejudice, saves the life of one of his fellow drivers, is bitten by a rattlesnake, sees a lynching, begins to learn to read, and survives storm, stampede, and possibly hostile Indians to win the respect of his boss and crew. The particulars of life on the trail and the hardships of the job are fascinating; Burks paints a vivid picture of the tension, adventure, and tedium that are all part of the cowboy's lot. The motives ascribed to the characters, however, don't always make sense. Senor Valarde threatens to quit unless the trail boss, who already has a full crew, hires George; the trail boss not only has no hard feelings, but then fires the wrangler—or wrango—for drunkenness and gives the inexperienced George the job. A mean-spirited bigot, Charley, becomes abruptly faithful and kind after George saves his life, just one of the several instances in which the veracity in the setting and details is not matched by credible characters or plotting. (b&w photos, map, glossary, bibliography) (Fiction. 11-13) Read full book review >
WALKS ALONE by Brian Burks
Released: March 1, 1998

From Burks (Soldier Boy, 1997, etc.), a brutally effective portrayal of the realities of the destruction of Native American culture. The Warm Springs Apaches, led by Chief Victorio, are refusing to go to the barren reservation set aside for them when they are attacked by "White Eye" soldiers. Walks Alone, a teenage girl, is wounded and separated from the remnants of her people, who are fleeing to Mexico. With her very young brother she is taken in by another band, which is rounded up and imprisoned by the White Eyes. When she attempts to get medicine to save her sick brother, she is beaten, and her brother dies. She finally catches up with her people, but they are attacked again, the men massacred, and the women and children enslaved. Based on the historical events leading up to the Battle of Tres Castillos, this is an unremitting tale of the misery inflicted on Native Americans. Burks, as in the past, pulls no punches, so there is no possibility of a happy ending as Walks Alone is marched off to enslavement; the hopelessness of the ending matches that of her people. Since the story is wholly told through Walks Alone's perspective, the actions of others against her and her people are not only vicious, but utterly bewildering to her as well. (map, bibliography) (Fiction. 11-14) Read full book review >
SOLDIER BOY by Brian Burks
Released: April 1, 1997

Johnny ``The Kid'' McBane, forced to flee from his crooked bare-knuckle boxing promoter in Chicago, enlists in the cavalry by lying about his age. After some initial hazing, he is posted to Custer's Seventh Cavalry at Fort Lincoln. There he makes a few friends, endures some pranks, and gets ready to move against the Indians in the spring. This exciting story from Burks (Runs With Horses, 1995) is marred: Readers who seize upon the introductory note's mention of ``thoroughly researched historical data'' will come away from the novel with the impression that army life of the period consisted mainly of vicious hazing and dangerous practical jokes and little in the way of training, duties in camp, barracks life, planning, or strategy. The ending is shockingly abrupt: The first Indian encounter and first battle occur only in the final three pages, and Johnny is killed in the last two paragraphs without firing a shot. It's a realistic ending, in a narrative not driven by realism; it may show how pointless war is, but it may also make readers feel as if they've been taken for a ride. (map, bibliography) (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1995

In 1886, a small band of Chiricahua Apaches, led by Geronimo, breaks out of the Fort Apache reservation and settles in Mexico's Sierra Madre, where they are safe from the US Army and free to raid the Mexicans for supplies and horses. Runs With Horses, 16, has trained for most of his life to become a warrior; in two more raids he will be able to choose a wife and join the warrior councils. But then Geronimo picks the teenager for a raid that results in their surrender to the Americans, who round up the Chiricahuas, imprison the men, and send the children to school in Pennsylvania to learn the way of whites. The story of government duplicity is sordid, but the real tale in this powerful and compelling historical novel is about striving mightily for a dream. Burks renders his first work for young adults in rugged prose, and his protagonist provides an admirable example of what the warrior ethos was all about. (map, bibliography) (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >