GRASSLANDS by Debra Seely
Kirkus Star


Age Range: 10 - 14
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Thomas Hunter felt constrained by the life his wealthy grandfather had laid out for him: “Academy, college, a law school. Marry a nice girl from a good family and live there in the county forever, hemmed in by the Virginia hills.” But the Kansas where he has come to live with his father and his new stepmother feels the opposite. “I felt naked, like anything protective around me was gone and all that was left was flat and shaggy grass, as if I could roll away in that wagon and no one would ever find me.” This was hardly the West he had dreamed of and read about in dime novels: bands of Indians, buffalo stampedes, cattle rustlers, Dick Deadeye, Buffalo Bill, and Jesse James. In place of such romance is hard work all day, every day, sickness, death, and loneliness. But the stampedes are for real. When Thomas’s herd of Herefords is engulfed by a stampede of longhorns, he must take what he learned of horseback riding in Virginia and learn the ways of cowboys. He must save his herd, bargain with a duplicitous cattle baron, avoid being shot in a saloon, and find his way back home 30 miles across the prairie. Newcomer Seely’s evocative writing has a flair for the vivid simile and seamlessly weaves a wealth of information about the prairie into this story of a boy who must overcome his “halfway feeling” between the two lives he has known. The characters ring true, and the author does not shy away from the seamier sides of cowboy life, including the brothel in the dark alley behind the saloon. By the end, remembering a favorite line from The Pilgrim’s Progress, Thomas says, “I had ‘quitted myself like a man.’ ” An excellent coming-of-age story and a must for collections on prairies, cowboy life, and westward expansion after the Civil War. (author’s note, sources) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8234-1731-X
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Holiday House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2002