Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: January 11, 2011
From Goodreads: William Sheppard had never ventured beyond his Chicago neighborhood until, at thirteen, he was sent away to the Swope Ranch Boys’ Reformatory, hundreds of miles from home, for stabbing his abusive father in the chest with a pocketknife. Buried deep in the Colorado mountains, Swope is shrouded in legend and defined by one prevailing rumor: that the boys who go in never come out the same. Despite the lack of fences or gates, the boundaries are clear: prisoners are days from civilization, there exists only one accessible road—except in the wintertime, when it’s buried under feet upon feet of snow, and anyone attempting escape will be shot down without hesitation in the shadow of the peaks. At 13,000 feet above sea level, the mountains aren’t forgiving, and neither are the guards. With twenty-four months of hard time ahead of him, Will quickly learns to distinguish his allies from his enemies. He also learns about the high price of a childhood lost. At Swope, herds of mustangs are trucked in to be broken by a select group of inmates. Once the horses are gentled, they are sold to ranchers and landowners across the Southwest. Horses come and go, delinquent boys come and go. The boys break the horses, Swope Reformatory breaks the boys. Throughout this ordeal, Will discovers three others who bring him into their inner circle. They are life preservers in a sea of violence and corruption.
I almost forget to mention: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Mr. Hilton 'gets' how 12 - 18 year old boys talk to one another. The way they act with one another when no adults are around. It was very realistic. The writing is beautiful - the slang and rhythm of the speech from the 1960's was perfect.
Will, the main character, feels guilty about stabbing his father, yet knows he wouldn't go back and change it. I think he feels guilty for not feeling bad about what he did. The story is told from Will's point of view. He goes from being the new 'fish' to being an old hand and serving his two years at Swopes.
Will's three friends: Benny, Coop and Mickey all come across as real boys too. Yeah, they did some stupid stuff that landed them in Swopes, but sometimes it wasn't really their fault. Some of it was their upbringing, their loyalty or their abusive/drunk/negligent families.
Will decides he has to break the mustang that Coop didn't complete. The breaking of the horse seems to symbolize the breaking of the boys. I read several reviews and comments that the things that happen on the ranch aren't realistic. Remember, this was in the early 1960's. Child Protective Services weren't like they are now - in fact, the juvenile system would much rather send them to somewhere that would force the boys into acceptable behavior than worry about WHY they were acting out. I mean, even the neighbors just took it for granted that there was 'home training' going on. See, that's what they called beating your wife and kids. Since it was acceptable, when Will stabbed his dad, that was very frowned upon. I'm sure that the same people would think that at least some of the things that happened at the ranch were acceptable.
This is a very dark story, with swearing and violence. I would say that I haven't read a book that made me feel this way since THE OUTSIDERS and STAND BY ME. I think it's that the boys seem to be on their own and no one really cares what happens to them. Even at the end, Will knows that no one but the guys he was there with (and Miss Little) really understand how he feels. It's a fabulous debut novel and I'm sure we'll see many more good things from David Hilton!
If you'd like to know more about the author, his website is: www.davidhilton.com