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Each ride on the bucking bull is a lesson in pain. Each landing on the packed dirt is a jarring reminder of reality. Rodeo camp is a tough way to spend a summer, but John is having the time of his life. No clingy girlfriends, no nagging moms, no annoying sisters. Just him and the guys and the biggest bulls he's ever seen. All he has to do is stay on a bull for eight seconds. It may feel like an eternity to his aching body, but for once John feels in control of his own fate. Then he learns his new rodeo buddy Kit is gay. Shaken by the news, he tries to deal with the other guys' reactions and his own self-doubts.
Suddenly, riding a bull seems easy. . . .
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Jean Ferris has written more than a dozen popular books for teens. Awards for her books include several ALA Best Book for Young Adults distinctions and a YALSA Teens' Top Ten Best Books award. Ms. Ferris lives in San Diego, California.
Gr 9 Up-Between his junior and senior years in high school, John Ritchie and his best friend spend a week at rodeo school. One of the young men there, Kit, strikes John as intensely interesting, both in his graceful, confident demeanor and in his calm attitude toward both bulls and the town bully. After he returns home, John learns that Kit is gay. They meet from time to time during the summer, and at summer's end, John realizes that he is gay as well. Ferris tells this realistic story with insight and balance between revelation and ambivalence. The teenaged boys, with the exception of the bully, are well-rounded characters whose motives, self-understanding, and social awareness are differentiated, authentic, and, for the most part, compassionate. The adults, as well as the minor female characters, including John's three sisters, are also genuinely presented as imperfect but well intentioned. Older readers who have negotiated the earliest stages of coming out depicted here will understand that John's story is far from over. Younger readers who are unsure of their sexual identity may be made fearful by John's frank assessment of the hardships he faces in the upcoming year without any mediating thought that, once it's over, he'll have gotten through it, and will be able to start living in a new place. Ferris's novel should not stand alone as representing gay issues, but it is a good companion novel for booktalking along with Ronald Koertge's Arizona Kid (Avon, 1989) and Liza Ketchum's Blue Coyote (S & S, 1997).-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
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