Year of the Horse

by Justin Allen

ages: 13+

First sentence:”Tzu-Lu sat at his desk, in the farthest corner of his grandfather’s store, staring at an unmarked sheet of paper.”

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Review copy provided by a friend of the author.

Tzu-Lu is 15 years old when the most famous gunslinger, Jack Straw, comes into his family’s store looking for an explosions expert for a mission. Against all odds (or at least his expectations), Lu (as he comes to be called) is given that job, and sets off on an adventure that will change his life. He’s in an intriguing multi-cultural band: there’s Henry, a former slave; Chino, a Mexican outlaw; and the MacLemore’s, a father-and-daughter team whose gold the gang is out to grab from under the nose of a Yankee who stole it from Mr. MacLemore years before.

As they traverse across the country, they meet Native Americans, experience natural disasters, run into crazy polygamous Mormons, run from demon ghost riders, and hang on the brink of death. And Lu discovers a depth in himself and his companions a depth that he never imagined was there.

It’s an intriguing book: a multicultural Western with a touch of the supernatural. It is an unlikely combination, but Allen makes it work for most of the book. The characters are just people out doing a job; there are very few instances when race actually comes into play. However, Allen uses the mulitcultural aspect of the book to climb upon a tolerance pedestal at the end of the book. I don’t normally mind pedestals, or mulitculturalism, but it just all seemed out of place. The book comes to an interesting end, and then… it just keeps going. Sure, the story worked okay with an epilogue of sorts, but it would have been just fine without it as well. And the books was doing just fine without pounding into our heads that anyone can be American, not just white people.

Either way, the final chapters soured the rest of the book for me. Which is too bad, because I was enjoying it quite a bit.

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