A Small White Scar by K.A. Nuzum. (Grades 5-8)
Ever since Will's mom died, Will's been the one to look out for his feeble-minded twin brother Denny, but at fifteen Will has had enough. He's leaving his dad's ranch. He's leaving Denny behind. He's going to La Junta by himself and he's going to win first place at the rodeo and get a job with another ranch. He's going to start his own life. Finally. But when Will leaves for the rodeo, Denny tags along. And Denny gets in trouble. And Will has to save him. Again. How can Will hope to have his own life if he's constantly stuck with Denny?
Set in Colorado in 1940, this is a great western adventure story complete with roaring rivers, rattlesnakes, bull riding, and more. Will's a conflicted main character, trapped between finding his own happiness and fulfilling his familial responsibility. It's not an easy place to be and Will doesn't have an easy time of it.
Ms. Nuzum paints a vivid picture of the rough Colorado landscape and Will's struggle to decide between his family and his future is one that will stick with me for a long time. One slight critique I have is that I didn't really understand why it was set in the past. Maybe they don't have rodeos like that anymore, I don't know, but it seemed like a story that could have worked just as well in the present day.
Anyhoo, that's just me being persnicketty. This is a great adventure story with strong characters and a lot of action.
Check out K.A. Nuzum's website (which, I swear, just barked at me)!