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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 13 years, 3 months ago

27 June 2009 HOMESTRETCH by Paul Volponi, Atheneum, September 2009, 160p., ISBN: 978-1-4169-3987-0


"Their father's hell did slowly go by."

-- Graham Nash


"Whenever Dad drinks enough whiskey and beer, he acts bigger and meaner.

"He started drinking a lot more after Mom died in a traffic accident. A sheriff's deputy blew a stop sign and hit her head-on, chasing some beaner who'd jumped behind the wheel of a stolen car because he didn't want to get deported back to stinking Mexico.

"'Just two types who'll work for less money than beaners -- dead folks, and live people with less than a shit's worth of pride,' Dad always told me. 'That's what keeps salaries here in southwest Texas so low. Those cockroaches will work for next to nothing. And if they ever got exterminated off the face of the earth, folks in these parts would have more, including us.'"


When Gaston (Gas) Giambanco Jr.'s horse-loving mother was still alive, and she overheard Gas telling mean jokes about Mexicans, she would remind him of how he felt being the target of jokes and name-calling directed at his small size: "'It wasn't a joke to you, because you knew it wasn't one to them,'" she would say.


But now Gas' mom is dead and he's reached the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. When his drunken, chronically out-of -work father finally beats up Gas one too many times and then passes out, Gas empties Dad's wallet, loads up a knapsack, and hits the road.


And wouldn't you know it? When Gas finagles a ride on a the back of a flatbed loaded high with cages of live chickens and climbs aboard, he discovers that he is "locked in with a bunch of boarder-jumping beaners." Among the passengers is a trio of young Mexican brothers who are headed for jobs at an Arkansas horse racetrack, and it turns out that a fourth worker is desperately needed. So it is that Gaston Giambanco Jr. spends his summer working in close quarters with the very people his father has taught him to despise. It will be an enlightening summer, and a dangerous one too: his unscrupulous, horse-doping employer creates fraudulent documents that permit the pint-sized Gas -- who has only ever previously done pleasure riding -- to become a jockey. And Gas' first teacher is an ill-fated jockey who has been dealt the worst of hands:


"'Being a jockey 'bout waiting your turn to get hurt, or paralyze, or killed. You know 'bout those things, bug?'"


Gas' boss' nemesis is an old by-the-book guy named Cap Daly, who owns a competing stable at the racetrack. It is the sweet-and-innocent attention dished out by Cap's angelic granddaughter, Tammie, who is spending her summer working for Cap, that keeps Gas' spirits up as he deals with his repeated missteps, falls, and lack of experience. (In contrast, the Mexican brothers are experts around the track, being from a family that has groomed horses for generations.)


HOMESTRETCH is a quick and exciting coming of age story full of mud, blood, speed, sleaze, and danger, along with some really good guys and a young woman who will help Gas as he slowly unloads his personal garbage.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks



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