Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ghetto Cowboy - a review

Neri. G. 2011. Ghetto Cowboy. Ill. by Jesse Joshua Watson. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Advance Review Copy supplied by publisher

Like Byron Watson's Michigan mother in Christopher Paul Curtis',The Watsons go to Birmingham 1963, Cole's mother, too, is at the end of her rope, nerves frayed by his constant juvenile delinquency. In desperation, she takes Cole south - from the Motor City to the City of Brotherly Love, where she leaves him unceremoniously with his father, a black cowboy in a small ghetto neighborhood of North Philadelphia, where he must get to know the father he's never met, come to terms with his own shortcomings, and learn to survive "the Cowboy Way," in this inner city version of the Old West.

Though this first person account features a hardened kid from the city living within earshot of nightly gang violence, Ghetto Cowboy is a novel of hope and possibility. It is about the love of horses and the ability of poor people to care for them, and for one another. It is a story in which people, even "bad" people, sometimes do the right thing, 
They come up to do whatever they can to help. Some people is carpenters, some electricians, some handymen; some is just kids who don't know nothing.  But a body is a body that can help out somehow.
"...a body is a body that can help out somehow." Amen to that.

 Black and white illustrations help bring this unique culture to life.  My particular favorite is a double-spread of the neighborhood cowboys and Cole, relaxing in the evening, in their street clothes with cowboy boots, two in cowboy hats, one in a hood, most bare-headed.  They're sitting in old lawn furniture or leaning against a barren wall, hoisting an odd assortment of beers, laughing, joking, shootin' the breeze - and one can imagine that they're not so different from the cowboys of old.

Ghetto Cowboy is a short and easy read, its small size belying its powerful emotional punch.

The real-life ghetto cowboys of Philadelphia were the subject of controversy when the PSPCA removed some of their horses several years ago.  Ghetto Cowboys, though fictional, offers an insider's view of these very real urban horsemen. Watch them and decide for yourself.

Check out the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club here.

The official book trailer is below, but, meaning no disrespect to its creator, I believe that the book is better than its trailer.

G. Neri's "Ghetto Cowboy" book trailer from Greg Neri on Vimeo.

I received my copy of Ghetto Cowboy for attending a webinar on upcoming releases (obviously, I’m behind in my reviews as the book was released in August).I wouldn’t usually request a YA title, but I’m willing to give most anything from Candlewick a try.(Good call)


  1. I will look out for this--thanks for the review!

  2. You're welcome. I found it fascinating. I've been to Philadelphia so many times, but had no idea this subculture existed. Lisa

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this review and the videos, Lisa. This does sound like a fascinating subject. Such neat images in the video of the men / boys? riding horses through the streets of Philadelphia.

  4. Your review actually brought tears to my eyes, so I know I would love this book. I really resonated to that "a body is a body that can help out somehow" too!

  5. Thanks. That phrase really got me, too.