A family crisis pushes a 12-year-old wannabe cowboy living outside Chicago in 1953 to resort to bullying and damaging pranks.
Since his baby sister’s birth, Tommy’s normally moody mother’s been like a “sky full of dark clouds.” When his older sister’s seriously burned, Tommy’s left to cope with her daily newspaper route, his increasingly abusive mother, his overwhelmed father and his younger sisters. Tommy reacts by bullying classmates, especially a shy, overweight new boy at school named Sam. When he’s caught stealing from Sam’s father’s store, Tommy retaliates by planting a copy of a communist newspaper found during a community paper drive in the store. After the owner’s accused of being a communist and the store’s boycotted, Tommy realizes he’s acting like an outlaw instead of a cowboy, and he tries to find the real communist in the neighborhood, leading to surprising discoveries and the help his family desperately needs. Speaking in the first person, Tommy reveals himself as a good-hearted, responsible kid who’s temporarily lost his moral compass. Effective use of cowboy imagery allows Tommy to step up like his hero, Gary Cooper in High Noon, and do the right thing. Period detail and historical references effectively capture the anti-communist paranoia of the McCarthy era.
A winningly authentic, realistic and heartwarming family drama. (author’s note, photos) (Historical fiction. 10-13)