by Eric Luper
It is the summer of 1934, and even at the height of the Great Depression, money is no object for the socialites at posh Saratoga Race Course. The trouble is times are tough for everyone else, especially penniless track workers like fifteenyear- old Jack Walsh. When Jack suddenly graduates from exercise rider to apprentice jockey, or bug boy, he is an overnight sensation. Success brings him all sorts of attention, including that of a brainy blond beauty who is more involved with the gritty underbelly of the track than she lets on and a vicious thug who presses Jack to break his code as a jockey for a payoff that could solve all his family’s problems.
Set amid the rough backstretch of Thoroughbred racing, this edge-of-your-saddle read follows the course of a young athlete whose rise to glory in the most popular sport in America is accompanied by ever-increasing pressure to do something that could leave him trampled in the dirt.
We all know that I am a sucker for young adult horse fiction. Well, for good young adult horse fiction. My most dorky dream is that Sarah Dessen decides to write about a horse loving girl, and I cling to this dim hope in a slightly obsessive manner. To pass the time, I am on a neverending hunt for good YA horse books, and they are few and far between, my friends.
Yet, for whatever reason, the publishing world decided to sprinkle the market with YA horse fiction this year, taking a quiet breather from all the vampire books hoping to catch a ride on Twilight's super insane comet of crazy. Bug Boy by Eric Luper is one of these books. Set in Saratoga during a time when America was fresh out of Prohibition, but still suffering through the Great Depression, horse racing is at its height of popularity. Jack Walsh, exercise rider, is about to become New York's most celebrated bug boy. Thanks to a tragic accident, Jack is shoved into actually playing out what it means to live your dream. It may or may not be all that he had hoped.
Jack isn't what one might call a natural fit for the job. He's a tad too tall, a tad too heavy, and the ordeal of making weight is daunting, disgusting, and everything you'd expect it to be. The glitz and the glamour of 1930s Saratoga, however, is also what would make most people go through just about anything to be able to experience. He lands a girlfriend, a car, enough money to send home, but that dead monkey in his locker probably isn't a good sign, right?
No. No it is not.
I liked this one. The details were amazing, but Luper blends them into the story so that they don't feel like pointless trivia obtained to prove that there was some research going on here. Jack is a good, solid character, and I could never find myself wanting to throw something at him, which I find is my main reaction to most characters in most horse books. The only weaknesses, for me, were the great reveals in the end and the reactions to said great reveals that felt unbelievable or slightly forced. One reveal in particular felt like a moment where someone whips a sheet off the elephant in the room, and then having someone quickly cover it back up again. And most people never noticed the elephant, or the fact that it was uncovered, even briefly. Which made me question why there was an elephant to begin with.
I recommend this one, elephant or no.