________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 13 . . . . February 22, 2008


Another Kind of Cowboy.

Susan Juby.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2007.
344 pp., pbk., $15.99.
ISBN 978-0-00-200708-5.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Joan Marshal.

***½ /4


He seemed to think I was making another move on him because he jumped away, banged his head again, and shouted, "Gay!" at me.


"I'm gay," he said, holding up his hands like he was ready to fight me off if necessary.

I have never been so embarrassed in my whole life. I collapsed onto the bench. Then I decided I had to get away, so I tried to get up again so I could leave.

He threw out a hand, like a traffic cop stopping an aggressive driver. I sat back down. He was starting to piss me off."

Jesus. Would you relax already? I was just trying to stand up."

"Oh. Okay, then," he said, then slumped down onto the bench beside me.

Neither of us spoke for a minute. We just sat there. In the quiet, I had one of my rare moments of actually considering how someone else might feel. Alex just came out to me, and all I could think of was to be embarrassed by my lack of gaydar and my totally inappropriate sexual advances.

"I'm sorry," I said again. "I guess I'm not…" How was I supposed to finish that sentence? What could I say that wouldn't be offensive?

"A guy?" he said.

Sixteen-year-old Alex Ford finally has the opportunity to learn dressage under the wise eyes of Ivan and Fergus, retired international trainers. At their barns, he meets Cleo, spoiled, rich and very self-centred, not to mention boy crazy. The harder Alex works at dressage (hiding it from his macho alcoholic father) and the more he tries to make friends with Cleo, the faster Cleo spirals out of control and the deeper Alex sinks into the despair of hiding his sexuality. However, as Alex's dressage skills advance, he gains confidence and revels in the love of his borrowed horse. It's not only a car accident and an illness that threatens her horse's life that bring Cleo back up short. It's also Alex's friendship and his newly found strength as he admits to and acts on this sexuality.

     Alex is a wonderful character, totally committed to horses and coping with his younger twin sisters, his crazy aunt Grace (the family's supposed caregiver) and his boozy father. He lusts after Cameron, a gorgeous skateboarder, but rejects the sex in the park scene. Observing the commitment and trust between Ivan and Fergus, he finally reaches out to his familiar friend Chris and his artistic world while Chris helps him to celebrate his dressage successes. Alex finds the strength to come out to his father and family and remains a true friend to Cleo, even when she behaves badly.

     Cleo's self-deprecating humour is what saves her from the poor little rich girl cliché. Yes, her parents have always abandoned her to nannies, chauffeurs and private schools, but her insightful comments display her wit and intelligence. Saved by her disgust at the drug taking of the more out of control girls, Cleo is drawn to the relative normality of Alex's sisters and aunt and responds to Alex's dependability and friendship. As many wealthy people do, she generously helps Alex when he needs it the most.

     Secondary characters are wonderful cameos, from the hard bitten, vindictive real estate agent to the tender, kind Fergus.

     The story is told alternately from the point of view of Alex and Cleo. The story begins weakly with the childhood of both main characters. This information would have been better integrated into the present day story as the intended readers may have difficulty persisting beyond Alex's infatuation with his bicycle, which he treats like a horse.

     The horse barn and competitive riding setting is rich and vivid. All horse-crazy high school students will love this atmosphere in which horses are lovingly trained and cared for.

     Mr. Ford's attitude aside, there is no gay-bashing in this book, and, in fact, the rest of Alex's friends and family accept his sexual orientation gently and in a matter-of-fact way. Although the serious issues of homosexual coming out, alcoholism and child neglect are central to this novel, the tone remains thoughtful and light, the essential goodness of people rises to the top and all ends well. Also, the scene in which Cleo buys a car will make you laugh aloud, not an easy feat for any young adult book.

Highly Recommended.

A Winnipeg, MB, bookseller, Joan Marshall admits to being afraid of horses but understands why some people love them.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.