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ROCKBUSTER by Gloria Skurzynski

ROCKBUSTER

By Gloria Skurzynski

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-689-83991-X
Publisher: Atheneum

Eighteen-year-old Tommy Quinlan is riding the train from Salt Lake City to Chicago for the funeral of Joe Hill. The smells, noise, and movement bring back memories of a train ride eight years earlier with his uncle, a coal mining union activist. The two were on their way to Idaho for the murder trial of Big Bill Haywood and hidden inside a cigar box was one thousand dollars for the defense fund. Tommy feels guilty when Pinkerton detectives drag his uncle from the train and murder him, but he does manage to deliver the money. Back home in his small mining town, Tommy starts to work the mines to help support his widowed mother and discovers a gift for the guitar, honing his skills in the underground blackness. As the years pass, his work grows more dangerous, but his gift for making up lyrics to popular tunes and playing in saloons helps bring in money. Almost predictably, he falls in love with a girl from the other side of the tracks, actually the daughter of the man who owns the mine. Their romance is difficult, carried out in secrecy and over long distances. When Tommy is urged to sing the union’s cause and carry forward the work of Joe Hill, he harbors doubts about the direction of his life. Ultimately, he decides that he must be his own man and not give up the girl he loves. He will use his gift of word making as a lawyer and advance the cause of labor in that manner. Skurzynski (Ghost Horses, 2000, etc.) presents a good picture of the horrors of life in the pre-WWI western coal mines. However, in spite of Tommy’s meetings with Haywood and Hill, they remain somewhat distant and sketchy characters. The ongoing courtship of his mother by a miner and the difficulties of his own romance often slow down the pace of the narration and the storytelling lacks the strength and power of its subject. (Fiction. YA)