Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams. Grades 5-8. Margaret K. McElderry, February 2009. Copy provided by my local library.
(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)
Cam O'Mara is more interested in skateboarding than bull riding, a fact that makes him somewhat unusual in his small Nevada ranching town. When his older brother is wounded while serving in the Marines overseas, Cam's world is rocked. His brother is coming home, but nothing will be the same. Ben can't walk, he's missing an arm, and he has to relearn how to talk and do all the things he used to do.
Ben was a skilled bull rider, one of the best in their county, and when Cam and his grandfather take Ben back to the bull ring, Cam gets on a bull for the first time. He's immediately hooked on the adrenaline and he's determined to become what Ben will never become - the first cowboy to ride the fabled bull named Ugly.
The action is pretty much nonstop between the skateboarding, ranching, and bull riding. Suzanne Morgan Williams certainly knows how to write an exciting book.
Besides the action, Bull Rider is also a compelling portrait of a changing family. This year we've seen an upsurge in books about kids dealing with the war in the Middle East and Bull Rider is a great addition to the subject. Cam and Ben have a realistic relationship. They love each other and support each other, but they get on each others' nerves sometimes, too. When Ben comes home injured, that entire dynamic changes. Instead of Ben looking out for his little brother, Cam has to step up and take care of Ben. It's a hard thing for both of them.
This was a great read and I wouldn't hesitate to hand it to boys and girls alike who like exciting stories or are dealing with a loved one serving overseas.
You could pair it with Rosanne Parry's Heart of a Shepherd for a very different type of story about a ranching boy dealing with family members in the military.
Check out more reviews at Readingjunky's Reading Roost and A Patchwork of Books. Read Suzanne Morgan Williams's guest post at Boys Read and author interviews at Cynsations and Shelf Elf.