Aug 31, 2008

Book Rec: Another Kind of Cowboy

Another Kind of Cowboy
by Susan Juby
Published: 2007

I'll state first that I liked this book. If ever there was a book deserving of a serious recommendation, this is that book. In fact, I'm not sure I can come up with a suitably snarky review for the blog, and I don't really even want to give up spoilers. What is wrong with me?

Well. Here's the summary:

For Alex Ford, dressage is an oasis. In the stable, he can slip into his riding pants, shed the macho cowboy image, and feel like himself for a change.

For Cleo O'Shea, dressage is a fresh start. She's got a new boarding school, absentee parents, and, best of all, no one to remember her past. . . .

They're an unlikely pair. Cleo's looking for love, but Alex has a secret he's not ready to give up, and a flirtation with Cleo is the last thing on his mind. But you can't find romance before you know real friendship, and sometimes the last person you'd ever think of as a friend ends up being the one you need the most.

If this was a Thoroughbred book, Christina would be having an aneurysm. The whole thing is about dressage, obviously. Alex has been obsessed with it since he was a kid, and Cleo spent her first jumping lesson sobbing. I appreciated that, actually.

The brief rundown is this: we've got two main characters. The book skips around between Alex and Cleo, telling Alex's story in third person and Cleo's story in first person. It sounds a little weird, until you start reading it. They're both sixteen. They both live in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, Alex because he's always lived there and Cleo because she was sent to a girl's boarding school centered in equestrian sports. Cleo is filthy rich because her parents are movie producers/directors, and thus leave her alone for vast quantities of time while they're off shooting movies in exotic locales. Alex's mom abandoned his family and his dad is a budding alcoholic living in an RV in front of their house. He's got an aunt and two sisters, twins, making sure things get done rather slowly around the house as Alex's dad spends all his time sleeping with a balding woman who is the island's most prolific realtor because her face is most commonly seen plastered all over areas destined to become strip malls.

Of course, they've got problems. Alex is struggling with his sexuality, which is to say he's a sixteen-year-old gay kid and horrified by the idea of having to tell anyone. Cleo is rich and selfish and lazy, but she's also dealing with the fact that her parents basically dumped her in Vancouver when her actions lead to their massive house in L.A. being stripped of all its expensive televisions, vases, and other possessions. She has no friends, and because she rides dressage and most of the girls at the school don't, that leaves her with one other girl who is a friend by proximity.

They both have horses. Cleo's parents bought her a ridiculously expensive and talented mare called Tandava. Alex has an elderly paint named Turnip that his dad won in a poker game. In a twist of fate, they both start training with Ivan and Fergus, dressage coaches recently retired to the area. Initially Cleo is interested in Alex, but when she tries to kiss him he just winds up screaming "gay!" at her.

And other things happen. I'm actually not inclined to spoil this book, because it's actually good. In the many books I've read for this blog (sure, many of them were Thoroughbred books, but they damn well count) I have learned that stumbling across a good horse-themed book is a miracle, so I'm treasuring this moment. Another Kind of Cowboy is a fun story. It's well-written and the characters are hilarious in a realistic way. It even makes dressage sound interesting. You'll probably like it. So run over to the library or the bookstore and grab a copy. Posthaste. As in now. Go.


Molly said...

I'll definitely be checking this one out.

Molly said...

Finally got around to reading this. It was very good. I'm chronically annoyed by the cliches of rich kids not caring about anything/not appreciating how good they have it, and the poor kids being morally superior. Believe it or not, rich people can actually be nice and poor people can be assholes.

I liked Cleo a lot, even though I'm guessing I was meant to be all judgy on her for being lazy and not really giving a fuck about anything or expressing gratitude for what she has. Yeah, that makes her different from the vast majority of teenagers how, exactly? She's exactly the kind of girl I'd have ended up friends with at that school just because I was too damn shy to tell her to kindly fuck off. God forbid a teenager like to have fun.

I know it sounds like I didn't actually like it, but I liked it a lot. I just wish that an author this talented had stepped outside such commonly-used boundaries (and I do wish that just once someone would recognize that rich kids don't necessarily want the "opportunities" their parents force on them). I loved the horses and their gay riding coach duo (who I kept picturing as Siegfried and Roy. Yeah, I don't know.) And I completely died laughing at certain parts. Screaming "GAY!" in some girl's face when she's trying to kiss you is officially the best coming out scene in all of teen lit. (Though once again I was a bit annoyed by the abundance of conveniently gay guys in easy access...but you just kind of get used to that in gay teen lit.)

Also, dressage book. Awesomeness, that. I never liked jumping much - I only did it because, well, that's what you do in regular lessons. You walk, you trot, you canter, then you jump. It's just what's done. And then my horse ended up being a ridiculously talented jumper, and, well, I'd have ridden that horse through flaming hoops because he had talent as a circus horse if that's what it took to keep him. I got completely choked up when Cleo realized that somewhere along the way she started loving Tandy even if she resented what she represented.

Mara said...

I agree with you on wishing the author had stepped further outside of the rich=ungrateful, poor=morally superior boundaries. Although I forgive this mainly because I think Cleo and Alex had far more depth than what I'm used to seeing in horse books, and they made that scenario seem far more true than it necessarily ever is.

And yeah, there were a lot of conveniently placed gay boys for a small town on Vancouver Island. I kept thinking that also. But, it was another thing I instantly forgave.

I'm glad you liked it!