In Sanders’ debut YA novel, a 17-year-old boy unravels the truth behind the mysterious circumstances of his father’s death, discovering love and courage on the way.
Despite support from his mother and his younger sister, Sam, Cody Harrison has been haunted by despair since his father died on a hunting trip they had taken together. Frustrated by his inability to recall the details of the trip, Cody also struggles to keep his family’s ranch, the T Bar S, from falling into disrepair while working odd jobs procured by his spunky sister. Sanders ably describes the tensions that emerge between siblings, especially siblings as different as gung-ho Sam and Eeyore-spirited Cody. Sam announces another gig; a Western film will be shot nearby, and carpenters are needed. Cody is talked into helping build the set by Ben Liebowitz, the congenial, cigar-wielding filmmaker. Their dialogue is often comical, such as when Liebowitz smooth talks Cody into yet another job—teaching J.T., the teen star, how to ride a horse—“Listen, kid…I saw you and that horse of yours tear almost straight down a hill at damn near a full gallop…But I guess you know your limitations better than I do…If you don’t think you can handle it then just say so.” The Western turns out to be about Billy MacAllister whose tale of rescuing a stolen herd of cattle was frequently told to him by his father, and Cody’s been having recurring dreams about him. On set, Cody falls for Angel, a beautiful co-worker who helps him regain his confidence. Sanders’ characters, full of earnest longing, maintain a steady appeal, and the author does a fine job of showing the parallel goals of Sam and Angel—to pull Cody out of his self-defeating rut. Cody’s unraveling of the mystery is wholly surprising, and characters’ destinies are perfectly tied up at book’s end. Unfortunately, J.T.’s complex character is left in the dust when Cody’s finished training him.
A charming coming-of-age story full of humor, mystery, and romance set in the Old West.