Starting with a ragtag bunch of boys, sweltering desert, and tall-tale sensibility reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s Holes (1998), this fantasy quickly becomes a time-hopping shoot-’em-up.
Sam Miracle, a 12-year-old blond white boy with arms that have been shattered and fused so tightly they don’t bend at the elbows, lives at a ranch for destitute youth. He frequently slips into trances in which he and his sister, Millie, also blonde, face death. The visions are memory fragments: Sam’s been killed repeatedly, as has Millie. A villain named El Buitre (the Vulture) is destroying life for “centuries in both directions,” and to that end he must kill Sam—permanently. The plot’s all action—Wild West, train wrecks, bridge crashes, gunfights—and the characters all recognizable types: a boy destined for greatness, an endangered sister, a girl sidekick, and three magical Navajos speaking a “mysterious liquid language” who orbit—and sacrifice themselves for—the white hero. One’s an appallingly stereotypical medicine man, communicating with animals and performing medical wonders; his brother is Father Tiempo, sort of a corporeal spirit guide who propels Sam through years and centuries but sacrifices himself to death repeatedly. Gunshots abound, and sometimes, because of Sam’s narrative viewpoint, they blast right at readers. Unforgettably, the medicine man fuses snakes with Sam’s arms, making the boy a crack shot and a legend.
Catchy tall tale, violent Western, and time travel, wrapped around inexcusable indigenous tropes. (Western fantasy. 9-12)