Dead cattle abound in Carroll’s debut middle-grade novel about a young boy’s struggles to adapt to ranch life.
When Francis Steinway arrives at his grandfather’s ranch, the citified youth balks at the idea of spending the next year there with his mom while his father serves in the military. Before departing, Francis’ dad told him it was time for him to be the man of the house, but the concept overwhelms young Francis. When the boy overhears his grandfather question Francis’s ability to adjust to the ranch, saying that he needs to toughen up and change his name to Frank in order to survive, Francis feels that no one believes in him, not even himself. But when he learns that the ranch’s cattle are mysteriously dying, threatening the survival of the ranch, the city kid resolves to impress his father and grandfather and solve the mystery. Francis’s attempts to investigate the dying cattle are fraught with danger, and each clue he uncovers is met with distrust from his skeptical grandfather. Francis’ struggle to prove himself is endearing; he never gives up or deviates from being a good kid—a positive message for boys. Invoking many details of ranch life, Carroll makes the Western setting come alive. The challenges Francis faces—learning how to ride and making friends at school—are realistic and sometimes agonizing, but his determination and positive attitude may inspire young readers. Carroll skillfully paints a well-rounded picture of the small Western town. The writing style is simple and accessible for developing readers. The ease with which Francis (aka Frank) solves the crime is fairly linear and almost too convenient, but this won’t spoil the fun of middle-grade readers.
A Western adventure with just enough danger to appeal to kids.