In this short but sweet middle-grade Western, a gruff but good-hearted cowboy teaches an awkward kid how to handle the bullying he suffers at the hands of others.
On his way to Col. McFarlie’s remote ranch to look for work, tough cowboy Stace spends the night at the home of an older couple. Because of their kindness, he agrees to look in on their son, Rabbit, who works at a bar at the nearby train stop. Rabbit is abused by the men of a nearby ranch because he’s bucktoothed and clumsy. Skittish and easily frightened, he is incapable of standing up for himself. After one of the colonel’s men throws a giant bone at Rabbit, Stace steps in to defend him and accidentally kills the other cowboy in the process. Despite this incident, the colonel hires Stace for the winter season and, at Stace’s request, also brings on Rabbit to assist the ranch’s cook. At first Rabbit is subject to more pranks and insults from the ranch’s diverse group of eccentric characters, but Stace teaches him how to fight back the fun way with his own practical jokes. Eventually, both the experienced outsider and his young sidekick earn their way into the hearts of most of the men—though some take much longer to warm to them than others. However, there are other dangers afoot around the ranch besides bitter cowboys. Author Davis creates a Western setting with prose that feels authentic in its dusty details: “Except for the railroad and the fly-speck town, the flats below were as brown and empty as a miscolored sea. The plain seemed to shimmer with heat and melt into the brown horizon.” There are some scenes of gruesome violence that ring true for the time period and the genre but may be a bit much for younger readers. However, if they can stomach these less-than-savory moments, they will be rewarded with an entertaining tale about the importance of developing thick skin and a sense of humor—lessons that apply to the modern world just as well as to the Old West.
An uplifting look at a cowboy’s coming-of-age that will appeal to adventurous young readers.