A sensitive preteen is sent off to work as a stable boy in Wisconsin in Blossom’s (Trespassing, 2017) novel.
Michael Bentley starts the summer of 1969 as a shy 13-year-old theater aficionado and a reluctant worker at Lakeside Stables, which sells rides to attendees at nearby camps. Michael’s mother suffers from multiple sclerosis, and with finances tight, the family can’t afford his normal summer activities, which include theater and golfing. He’s the runt of the Lakeside group, which includes the college-aged bosses Hank Nelson and Cal Masterson, and experienced teens Wyatt Moretti, Earl Thorne, Parker Moretti, and Lenny White. The five teens are the so-called “peons” at the stables, who must rise early and do grunt work. Together, the boys wrangle horses, ride them between two camps, and entertain campers with made-up stories of various antics. Michael, for instance, is called “Coolidge” by one of the bosses, and he quickly adopts a goofy, tough persona to go with the new moniker. But in trying to keep up with the older boys, Coolidge, or “Cool” for short, often finds himself out of his depth. They dare him to take on risky challenges, such as riding a hostile horse or showering under a stream of water pouring from an abandoned, rotting mill. Blossom, through his wide-eyed narrator, creates a character that readers can root for. Cool, despite his false name, is an honest, self-aware guide through the rough-and-tumble world of the titular horse boys, clearly identifying the thrills of peer pressure and the insecurity of young adulthood. This is particularly true when the subject of girls comes up: Wyatt, Earl, Parker, and Lenny all tell exciting tales of midnight rides that pique Cool’s curiosity about the opposite sex. However, they also start to change the way that he thinks about women. At one point, for instance, he entertains a comparison between girls and horses (“Maybe it was a bit like using the breaking corral for horses: control the location, whittle away resistance slowly, insist on results”). Readers will find such naïveté chilling but compelling.
A believable tale about an earnest boy’s life-changing summer.