First Paragraph:We drivin’ into the sunset, the car burning up from the heat. I don’t know if it’s comin’ from outside or from Mama, who’s burning up angry at me. She ain’t said nothin’ to me since we left the principal’s office ’bout a hour ago. But she got her foot pressed on the gas like we in a race, zoomin’ past everyone on the expressway.
G. Neri will be here Thursday to face the 7 Questions.
God, I love this book! I know, I love all the books, Esteemed Reader, and next week I'll be telling you about another book I love. But I really, REALLY love this book. I love it so much I'm going to buy a copy for my nieces and nephews for Christmas (I'm the Uncle who buys books instead of toys and I regret nothing). I'm going to buy it for my white nephew and my black nephew and I'll bet they both love it as much as I do because a great story well told transcends race.
A brief aside: growing up white, I never noticed most the heroes in the books I read were white like me. Why wouldn't they be? But as an adult Ninja married to a black woman and planning a family, I've been combing books with a different mindset. What books will my kids read? Where are the books staring dark-skinned boys who go to wizarding school and tour chocolate factories?
But here, Esteemed Reader, is G. Neri and his new classic, Ghetto Cowboy. It's a gripping read for readers of any age, and if you're a writer working on your voice, Ghetto Cowboy is a book you definitely want to read as G. Neri is all about nailing the voice of his protagonist Witness how he writes Cole (short for Coltrane, naturally) as a genuine character who says the things Cole would say the way he would say them (but without all the swearing I imagine he might include if this were YA instead of MG):
But G. Neri isn't going to let them forget:
The old man shakes his head, like I’m a fool. “Son, don’t you know black cowboys is a tradition that goes back to before the Civil War?”
“Whatever,” I say.
He looks disappointed. “Not whatever, man. The word cowboy started as a black word. Wear it proudly.”
“So how come I never seen any black cowboys on TV then?”
He waves his hand. “TV. Humph. Can’t trust the media to tell the truth. The truth is, the white man always gets his way. Looky here. . . .”
He pulls out a book from a dusty shelf. It got pictures and drawings from a long time ago. He shows me some old black-and-white pictures of black dudes dressed in homemade clothes doing cowboy stuff — roping, riding, and cleaning horses.
“Back in the slave days, the slave who worked in the house was called a houseboy, slaves who worked with the cows was called cowboys. Get it?”
No, but he just getting started. He points to a picture of a black cowboy riding a horse out in the wild. He got one of them cowboy rope things whirling in the air like he about to catch some bull. “That’s Bill Pickett, son of a slave and the most famous black cowboy of all. Back then, there was almost nine thousand black cowboys out West, working cattle and driving ’em up the Chisholm Trail and such. And these cowboys was so good that eventually, the whites took the name cowboy for themselves. Stole it, really. Now we’re just trying to take it back, is all.”
Ghetto Cowboy should be in every school and library in the country. If America is ever to move past racism, it's important to keep a dialogue going that acknowledges our nation's true history. It's just as important for all children to remember our history and Neri is keeping that dialogue moving.
That's one reason why I'm so glad to have posted this review at the beginning of February. This is the perfect month to share history with the children in your life (just watching Lincoln doesn't count). Here's a good place to get started.
More than being a history lesson, Ghetto Cowboy is a book about a universal truth: boys need fathers, if they can be got, and fathers need boys to need them. It's a good story, well told, and it's one refreshingly not quite like anything else I've read. Do yourself a favor, Esteemed Reader, pick up this book.
As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Ghetto Cowboy:
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.