Rating: 3 out of 5 Wild Horses
William Sheppard had never ventured beyond his Chicago neighborhood until, at thirteen, he was sent away to the Swope Ranch Boys’ Reformatory, hundreds of miles from home, for stabbing his abusive father in the chest with a pocketknife. Buried deep in the Colorado mountains, Swope is shrouded in legend and defined by one prevailing rumor: that the boys who go in never come out the same.
Despite the lack of fences or gates, the boundaries are clear: prisoners are days from civilization, there exists only one accessible road—except in the wintertime, when it’s buried under feet upon feet of snow, and anyone attempting escape will be shot down without hesitation in the shadow of the peaks. At 13,000 feet above sea level, the mountains aren’t forgiving, and neither are the guards.
With twenty-four months of hard time ahead of him, Will quickly learns to distinguish his allies from his enemies. He also learns about the high price of a childhood lost. At Swope, herds of mustangs are trucked in to be broken by a select group of inmates. Once the horses are gentled, they are sold to ranchers and landowners across the Southwest. Horses come and go, delinquent boys come and go. The boys break the horses, Swope Reformatory breaks the boys. Throughout this ordeal, Will discovers three others who bring him into their inner circle. They are life preservers in a sea of violence and corruption.
But if the boys are to withstand the ranch, they must first overcome tragedy and death—a feat that could haunt them for years to come.
This is a detour from what I normally read, and it turned out to be a good adventure. It is a brutal story about coming-of-age, friendship, and learning to accept the past. Really, it wasn't what I expected, and there were some nice parallels drawn seamlessly together.
The main character, Will, is complex and likeable. However, I don't know if I felt like he really evolved as a person. He attacks his abusive father and ends up in a juvenile ranch in Colorado where it's every man for himself. The experiences he has there are brutal and, at times, unreal in their violence. The last experience in the woods lasts a long time and it is awful. I cannot imagine living through something like it and being sane afterwards. We see an older Will at the end of the novel and he is a man torn apart by guilt and haunted by ghosts from those days in Colorado. The attack on his father is never addressed really. I wanted him to come to grips with that whole thing in one way or another. Whether he finishes the job, namely Silas Green, and actually kills someone or he turns completely away from violence and sees it as something despicable. I just don't know if Will really is a fully changed man by the end of the novel. I wanted him to be better because of or in spite of his experience, but that didn't happen.
Will's friends are each very unique. I loved Benny the most. You don't really get to know Coop well enough and I wish his character were developed more before he was taken out of it simply because of how much of a crux his part became later on. Mickey is interesting, and he was not my favorite at first, but I grew to like him. Each of their stories are more and more depressing than the last. Benny's story is simply the most heartbreaking especially as it evolves. Benny is the only character that I think really grows and becomes a different person by the end. His accident makes him slower and whatnot but there is something magical and beautiful about him. I love the scene where Benny is carrying Will to the cave.
If you're looking for a light read to lift your spirits this is not it. However, it has managed to be a haunting story to me. All in all I'm glad I read it, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for something gritty and a little thought-provoking. I gave it three out of five wild horses.