This Western for young readers focuses on a horse ranch in Wyoming, an unruly mustang, and a mysterious Shoshone visitor.
Curtin’s debut follows Jesse Alvarez, son of the new foreman at Big Bob Savage’s ranch in Riverton, Wyoming. Jesse’s always the new kid in town; he and his father, Mark, move from job to job, and his mother has mostly been absent since his parents’ separation. But Big Bob, the ranch’s benevolent but firm owner, seems to like them, recognizing their hard work and thorough knowledge. Unfortunately, Big Bob’s teenage son Cade hasn’t inherited his father’s kindness and has let his wealth spoil him. He’s popular and athletic but often a bully, especially to Aaron Little Elk, a Shoshone and outsider in Jesse’s class. Although Jesse appreciates Aaron’s friendship, he sometimes spends more time with friends Mike and Logan, who ride ATVs and play video games. However, when Big Bob acquires a wild mustang and offers to loan him to Jesse for the upcoming rodeo, it turns out that Aaron is the only person who can connect with the stallion. Aaron names him “Dreamcatcher”; he also makes the titular Native American items to keep away his own dreams of a past trauma. When Aaron disappears, Jesse believes it has something to do with the horse and a Shoshone stranger he’s seen around the ranch. This brief tale has many layers, tackling class differences between the Shoshone Aaron and wealthy Cade, Jesse’s parents’ difficult separation, the vicissitudes of youthful friendship, and the relationship between man and animal. The novella’s rising action deftly balances real human drama and spooky supernatural elements: “I’m not afraid of you up here, Cade,” says Aaron. “I know these woods. I know this mountain. This is Shoshone land...my land. It’s a magical place.” Despite occasional clichés (including a predictable divorce subplot), Curtin is never content with simple resolutions. The ending offers satisfying but hard truths, particularly concerning the permanence of loss.
A complex novella for thoughtful young readers, horse lovers, and campfire storytellers.