Today's featured YA book is Another Kind of Cowboy, by Susan Juby. It's a good read, in the best sense of the term.
I like a book that gives me thick description* of something I know little about--with reference to books, I'm thinking really dense and knowledgable descriptions of a craft or practice that is an integral part of the character's experience, not tacked on to add some sort of "color." Reading Peak, I learned about mountain climbing, Dramarama immersed me in the preforming arts, and even Dairy Queen, and its Cybil nominated sequel, The Off Season, taught me quite a bit about football.
With Another Kind of Cowboy, the area of thick description is the art of dressage--the almost telepathic interaction in which a rider sits on horse who progresses gracefully through a series of changes of gait, direction, etc. Alex and Cleo are both students of this art--Alex because it is his passion, Cleo because she has no other passion. For Alex, a gay teen with a dad who wants him to be a Manly Cowboy, this world of costly horses, gear, and lessons is a dream he has to struggle to make real; for Cleo, an entitled rich kid sent off to a horsey boarding school, it is primarily a thing her parents have made easy for her.
Alex's story is told in the third person, Cleo's in the first. This makes it rather ironic that Alex is the character whose portrayal is rich, deep, and compelling. Cleo's light voice natters on, without revealing much depth, but the narrator gives Alex's feelings and focus a gentle weight that makes him a very real person. In a way, how the writer treats each character is a lot like how the characters treat their horses. Cleo has a cavalier attitude to her incredibly talented and expensive horse--she doesn't warm her up in advance of competition, she doesn't look after her gear. The relationship between rider and horse is distant. Alex is the opposite--his horses come first.
I was kind of hooked on this book from the beginning, just from nostalgia. The main character pretends his bike is a horse--grooming it, training it, practicing dressage and horse jumping while riding around and around the driveway. I didn't take it quite as far as he does, but still, the thought was there. This is a book I'd happily recommend to any teen who loves horses, and any teen who just wants a really good book.
Here's another review by a co-Cybilian, at the Ya Ya Yas.
*not the Geertzian type of thick description, although I like that too and at some point I might sit down and write a Geertzian analysis of a scene or two from some of the high school books I've just been reading--alien cultures indeed.