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CR3 #62: Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton

(Disclaimer: I received this book free from Simon & Schuster in a giveaway through Goodreads.com. My opinions are my own.)

William Sheppard is a kid from mid-60s Chicago who--in a moment of desperation--stabs his abusive stepfather with a pen-knife. Although the man survives, Will is sent away for two years to Swope Ranch, a reformatory for boys in the Colorado mountains. He makes few friends (though the ones he finds are something special) and a few (brutal) enemies. He spends time learning how to break horses, how to survive in a completely hostile environment, and trying to figure out who he will become. The majority of the staff are at best uninterested and at worst actively dangerous. Soon, Will and his friends find themselves in a situation none of them could have imagined when they arrived.

Kings of Colorado reminded me a lot of Lorenzo Carcaterra's book Sleepers, in that both take place in a prison for boys, and the circumstances vary from grim to downright deadly. Sleepers begins with the main characters already being friends, while Kings of Colorado has the boys meeting once they reach the ranch. Also, in Sleepers the story spends almost as much time on the boys' adult lives (and their revenge on the reformatory) as it does on their youth, while Kings of Colorado is almost 90% about the time spent at the ranch. The characters are well-drawn, and the plot for the most part moves along. The descriptive passages are pretty enjoyable, and the author definitely has writing talent. My main complaint with this book is that it was almost relentlessly depressing. There were a few very brief occasions of happiness or humor, but for the most part the book consisted of terrible things happening to mostly nice people. Since I connected closely to the characters, it made it worse that nothing good ever happened to them. I did enjoy the way things ended--it tied the book together and gave the reader a (albeit very tidy) conclusion.

I'd recommend this because it's a pretty good coming-of-age story with some really great descriptions and characterizations. One thing to note, although this may look like a YA book, it would probably only be appropriate for older teenagers, since it is--as I mentioned--pretty dark. On the whole, a great debut effort from David Hilton. I look forward to seeing what he does with his next work!

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