As he did in Where the Kissing River Never Stops (1986), Koertge mixes serious themes and hysterically funny set-pieces in a tale of young love and teen-age angst. Billy Kennedy leaves Missouri for Tucson, where he has a summer job with a horse trainer at the track. On arrival, he confirms a wimpy self-image by fainting from the heat; but soon he's acquired a good tan, a western outfit, a buddy (Lew, whose survivalist Dad provides much of the comic relief here), and a girlfriend, Cara Mae. Learning the ins and outs of racing, Billy ultimately foils a plot to fix a race. Meanwhile, he and Cara Mae develop a fumbling but tender regard for one another, founded as much on friendship as on sex; by summer's end they can go their separate ways with regret, but not grief. There is a notable second friendship between Billy and Wes--his wry, gay uncle whose comfortable life is challenged by AIDS-induced anxiety. Here the author is more tentative: Billy has a fairly liberated attitude, but Koertge's gay characters are exaggerated types, and his picture of gay life seems largely empty and artificial. Still, while this may seem like heavy freight for one novel, Koertge lashes it all together with laugh-aloud situations and dialogue; and Billy is a loyal, perceptive protagonist, who can see others' problems even when he's wrapped up in his own.