The Boy on a Black Horse

The Boy on a Black Horse

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by Nancy Springer

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School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Horse-crazy Gray, 13, is drawn to a strange new boy who calls himself Chav. She sees him riding a beautiful black stallion, follows its trail, and learns that he is living on his own with his younger brother and sister. When the children become ill, Gray and her aunt (with whom she lives) take them in, but Chav is afraid to open up to them. He has run away from his rich, white father whose abuse killed his mother, and he clings to a romantic ideal of returning to the Gypsy life his mother once led. He doesn't want to trust non-Gypsies, but Gray and her aunt are weakening his defenses. His anger and confusion mount until he decides to kill the boys from school who have teased him and then commit suicide. Gray intercepts him and he breaks down and confides his fears. Springer makes these characters and their troubled lives convincing. Glimpses of Chav's thoughts written in his journal punctuate Gray's first-person narrative. Romantic young readers will be as fascinated as she is by the Heathcliff-like Chav and his confused siblings. While the ending is a bit too tidy, this is a satisfying and often compelling story with vivid, memorable characters. It's more of a psychological than sociological novel and should appeal to horse-story fans and problem-novel readers alike.-Louise L. Sherman, Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.38(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Boy on a Black Horse

By Nancy Springer


Copyright © 1994 Nancy Springer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-8870-4


The first time I ever saw him I was pretending to write in my daily journal in language arts class but actually drawing a horse—the head and neck had come out run-in-the-wind gorgeous, but I knew I would never get the rest of it as good—and when the door opened I looked up like everybody else, and there was a strange boy walking into my life.

This is his story really, not mine. Though it kind of turns into my story.

Something about him cut me open like a knife. He wasn't tall, and he wasn't good- looking—in fact, his face was crooked and his skin was marked up like it had been through a lot. But there was something about the fierce way he moved that went straight to my heart. He was dressed all in black. And his black hair hung wild, like the wind had been in it. And his fierce dark eyes looked wild. I knew right then I was going to care about him—not like a boyfriend; I didn't think I was ever going to have a boyfriend or a husband like other girls, and I still don't—but I knew I was going to care about what happened to him.

Mrs. Higby stood up behind her desk, and by the way her third chin was jumping around I saw she was scared of him. "Who have we here?" she said with her voice way up in her nose. Mrs. Higby is always "we," like she was more than one person, when really one of her is plenty, thank you.

The new boy gave her his yellow slip from the office. She looked at it like she couldn't read it. "What is this name?"

"Chav." His voice was gritty and low.

"We beg your pardon?"

"Chav." He said it like "Shah," like he was the king of some foreign country. And the way he stood there, carrying himself tall and airy with his head high, he could have been.

"Spell it."

He did. She wrote on the yellow slip. "Chav." She couldn't pronounce it the way he did. "And this last name?"

He shrugged.

"We need to know your last name for the records."

He told her a last name, but it could not have been his real name. It was a joke only an adult would miss. Kids burst out laughing because they thought he was being a smart-ass and yanking her chain, but he wasn't. His face didn't smirk back at the laughter—it might as well have been carved out of rough brown rock. He did not care whether people laughed or what they were laughing at.

Mrs. Higby was peering at him through her bifocals, not sure whether to believe him. She said, "Spell it."

He did, straight-faced. Mrs. Higby still could not tell about him, and neither could I—what was he trying to prove? I was not laughing, but some of the boys in class were laughing so hard they were kicking the furniture.

"Class!" Mrs. Higby screeched, and she gave up on Chav. "Sit there!" she ordered him, and he took the front-row desk across the room from me. His black hair hung down in his eyes. He tossed his head and flung it back, like a wild stallion tossing his forelock.

Mrs. Higby told us to put our journals away and got us going on the lesson. We were each to have written a poem on a subject of our choice. I wondered if Mrs. Higby could write a poem on the subject of her choice if somebody told her to do it. Probably not. It didn't seem to me like there was diddly-squat's worth of poetry in her anywhere. It was like she had this idea that kids were supposed to be creative, not her. To make it more embarrassing, each of us was supposed to recite our poem aloud, because "recitation is a language art too."

She went around the room calling on people. A few kids got up and said really bad poems to tell her what they thought of the assignment. A lot of kids hadn't done it at all, which made her annoyed with everybody in general. Walking past Chav, she snipped at him. "We don't suppose you have anything," even though there was no way he should have.

But Chav stood up.

Maybe he did it to show her wrong. Maybe he did it to surprise everyone—which it did, it surprised us plenty. But I think he had deeper reasons, like there was something in him crying to be said.

Without speaking he went to the center of the front of the room. Everybody stared at him, including Mrs. Higby—especially Mrs. Higby—but he didn't look at any of us. I don't know where he was looking. Far away somewhere.

As though he had just that moment thought of it, he said:

"My life is made of midnight.
The black horse of anger gallops closer.
The moon in my sky is the color of death.
The stars are chips of broken glass
In a black back alley at midnight
And the stallion gallops in my chest,
The black horse of anger gallops.
The world will die under his iron tread,
And the moon in my sky is a cold dead eye
At midnight."

His voice was low, but everybody heard every word, we were so quiet. Something about him stunned us.

Mrs. Higby's throat was jerking again. She said, "Very nice, Chav," without meaning it. It made sense that she wouldn't appreciate real poetry from a kid.

Chav didn't look at her as he sat down. He did not care about her approval or disapproval or the way everybody was goggling at him. Me too, and my mind was going like a hamster in an exercise wheel. Who was he? Where was he from? Was he older than the rest of us? He wasn't big, but in ways he seemed a lot older. That rugged face of his. The way he owned space when he was in it, instead of just borrowing it for a minute.

Mrs. Higby looked around the room and picked on me next, maybe because the horse in Chav's poem made her think of me, because she knew I liked horses. "Grace. You have a poem to share with us?"

I hate my name, because I'm not graceful and I'm tired of Amazing Grace jokes. My friends and family call me Gray, because I've got them trained, but Mrs. Higby wasn't trainable. I had tried.

"Grace Calderone." As if there were another Grace in there. "Your poem, please."

I shook my head. I had written something, but after Chav's poem it would have sounded stupid. It was about the fat little mare I rode sometimes. Her name was Paradiddle, she had funny hair that was curly all over, her legs were so short she trotted like a caterpillar, and she was the sweetest thing. I adored her. Yet in a way I didn't want to ride a ponyish horse like her. I'm a dreamer, and Chav's angry black stallion poem had pushed all my dream buttons. I didn't want to talk about my fuzzy little Paradiddle in front of him.

So I shook my head. "Grace, we're disappointed," Mrs. Higby grumped. "We were counting on you."

"But she does have something!" yelled out my best friend, Minda, who never knows when to keep her mouth shut. "I saw it, she showed it to me!" I turned around and glared at her, but she didn't shut up. "Come on, Gray, it's good!"

"Grace, recite your poem," Mrs. Higby ordered, so I had to. I didn't look at Chav, but once I was up there I decided to give it my best shot.

"She has curly hair—
No, she's not a poodle.
She's pudgy in the middle—
No, she's not a teddy bear.
She's a little brown mare,
Her name is Paradiddle,
And I can ride her
So I look stupid, who cares?
Laugh if you dare.
Just bring me a saddle,
Hand me a bridle.
She's not a caterpillar,
She's a horse, so there!"

I hammed it up, and threw in a pout at the end. Most of the kids laughed and clapped. It was kind of nice that they liked my poem, and kind of awful, because who cared about them—what did the new boy think? Did Chav think I was a big overgrown jerk?

Finally I dared a look at him. He wasn't laughing. He was looking straight back at me, but I couldn't tell what he was thinking. His eyes were like black ice. I couldn't see into him at all.

At lunch he came through the line late and used one of those purple vouchers they give you at the office if you've forgotten your lunch money. Then he sat by himself to eat.

"Wake up, Gray," Minda teased me. She waved her hand in front of my face. I just shoved it away. Like I was the only person watching Chav and wondering about him? I wasn't. Half the school was trying to figure him out, because he was different. He acted different, and he talked differently than us. Not that he had an accent, exactly, or at least not any accent I knew. He just sounded different.

"Gray likes the new boy," Minda sang.

"Shut up!" I whacked at her. She ducked.

"Gray likes—"

This time when I whacked at her she put her arm in her plate getting away. Lunch was some sort of prechewed meat with canned gravy like pureed monkey brains. Truly gross. It latched onto Minda's sweater sleeve like alien slime. She screamed, "Ewwwww! Sick," but then at least she was too busy cleaning herself up to bother me. I sat and watched Chav some more. It wasn't true, what Minda was saying. I mean, I felt something for Chav but not what she meant. But she would never understand that. Probably nobody ever would.

Another different thing about Chav: he sat there eating his school lunch from one end to the other as if it were real food.

I wasn't the only one who noticed. Matt Kain, also known as Kain the Pain, got up and went over to hassle him.

"Hey, weenie! You hungry or something?"

Chav just looked up at him and kept eating.

"Hey!" Matt yelled to whoever would listen. "Look at this new dude! He eats cafeteria slop."

A couple of Matt's buddies grinned and yelled stuff back, but Chav didn't bother to say anything to any of them. He just kept eating.

Matt leaned over him and yelled like he was deaf, "Weirdo, you stupid? That crap ain't food. Don't you know dog barf when you see it?"

Chav kept eating. I got up, pretending to take my tray back, and headed toward Kain the NoBrain Pain to tell him to let Chav alone.

"You'd eat manure, wouldn't you?" Matt was saying to Chav as I got close, and he stuck one big hand under Chav's plate to tip it up. Right then I saw that Chav didn't need any help from me, because the next instant Matt was wearing the whole tray, and Chav was on his feet with black fire in his eyes. Matt yelled a name I can't repeat and jumped at Chav to punch him out. And Matt was about three inches taller than Chav, and a lot huskier. But Chav met him like a head-on collision, and the next second Matt was staggering back—no wonder. The look on Chav's face even scared me, and I wasn't the one getting hit by him like getting kicked by a horse. Chav really knew what he was doing. Matt would have been flattened except a couple of his football buddies jumped up and grabbed Chav to stop the fight.

He let them hold him by the arms and barely seemed to notice them. But he spoke to Matt. "Listen, butthead," he said, "just let me alone."

"Like hell I will. I'm going to get you for this." With blood on his face and pukey canned gravy globbed all over the rest of him, Matt looked like he meant it. Sounded like he meant it too.

But Chav laughed. Not a TV bad-guy laugh, not a pose, but a real laugh as if something was actually funny, kind of. "Don't bother," he said in a matter-of-fact way. "I really don't care."

Then he pulled away from the guys who were holding him and walked off with not a spot of mess anywhere on those black clothes of his.

"Hot dog," somebody said. I came to and found that Minda was standing beside me. Lots of kids were gathered around—but no teachers, lucky for Chav and Matt. Parents think teachers are always playing cop at school, but they're not. In between classes teachers mostly don't want to be bothered.

"Holy crud," somebody else said. "Who the walk-on-water does he think he is?"

At the time I thought it was a stupid put-down. But it turned out to be the first question I should have asked about Chav and didn't. Who did he think he was?

Who was he?

"So what's new at school?" Liana asked me at supper. She's my aunt, but I never call her Aunt because it makes her seem old, which she's not. She's young and pretty and a pretty decent person to live with. When I was little I used to spell her name Lee Anna on Christmas tags and thank-you notes and things, because that was the way it sounded to me, and she never corrected me. That was the kind of person she was—people's feelings mattered to her, even if the person was just a little kid. Especially if it was just a little kid. She loved kids.

Supper was her homemade bacon-and-broccoli four-cheese thick-crust pizza, which is great. I was interested in eating, not talking about school. "Nothing," I said with my mouth full.

But Liana really wanted to talk, because she gets lonely being by herself most of the day. "Gray, give me a break. There has to be something. What was the best thing that happened to you today?"

"Chav." It was okay to say this, because Liana wouldn't tease.

"Chav? Is that a boy's name?" But she was cool, she didn't even smile the wrong way. Liana was hardly ever a pain—she was just kind of sad a lot, like living was a duty and an obligation and taking care of me was a responsibility. Those were words she used a lot, but she hardly ever said "enjoy." I missed my parents and brother probably as much as she missed her husband and kids, but I'd made up my mind to get over it. I had a life, and I don't think Liana really did. She just sort of watched mine, like watching TV.

"Yeah, he's a boy. He's new."

"See, I knew something was new." That was about as close as she ever got to teasing. And her smile almost brightened up her eyes. "What's he like?"



"He doesn't talk like us and he doesn't dress like us and he's not friendly."


"No, not really."

"But there's something about him?"

Sometimes she understood things too damn well. I chomped a big mouthful of pizza and didn't answer.

After a while she asked, "What was the worst thing that happened today?"

"The fight."

"You got into a fight with somebody?" This was not unknown to happen.

"No. Chav did."

"Oh. Was it bad?"

"Nobody got hurt or anything, but it was scary."

Liana was looking at me kind of hard. "Why?"

But I just chewed pizza and shook my head and couldn't answer. Or wouldn't.

It wasn't that I was afraid of Chav himself, exactly. But I was starting to understand about the black stallion of anger galloping in his chest. It was his heart, and it frightened me. The rage in him might trample anybody, even a girl.


Mrs. Higby
Oct. 15
Language Arts

We are supposed to keep a journal ten minutes every day in this class. I don't know what to say. If I could talk or sing instead of having to write, I would do better.

Nobody is supposed to look at this journal. But why would the teacher make us write it if she is not going to look at it? MRS. HIGBY, YOU ARE A WART ON THE TUSH OF THE WORLD. If she looks at this and has a heart attack, it will be her own fault for being a lying gadjo.

There is one person here I like, a girl who has a feeling about horses. But she is a gadjo too. Never trust a gadjo. That was my mother's mistake. I will not make friends with any gadjos. I do not want any friends. What is the point? In a few weeks I will be someplace else. It is a big country. I am not likely to run out of places before I run out of time.

The gadjo girl is not very pretty anyway. She is tall and pale and has a big nose and big legs like two-by-fours.

I do not believe I let Baval and Chavali talk me into this going to school. But they are right, the school is warm at least, and it is easy to get something to eat. In a way they are right, that if I am going to make them go, I ought to go myself. But in a way they are wrong, because they do not understand: they are going to grow up and have families and be happy, but I am not. They are going to need education, but I am not. Once they are big enough to take care of themselves, then they will not need me anymore, and that will be it for Chav. I will steal a gun and go to a country club or somewhere and take with me as many gadjos as I can before I dispose of myself.

Time's up.

Mrs. Higby
October 15
Language Arts

Gray Calderone
Ride a black horse
Ride a high wind
Tame a black stallion
Tame the wind
Tame the thunderstorm
Gentle the wind
Make it your friend
Gentle the wind

After the first couple of days I started to catch on that Chav was poor. I heard he borrowed soap and shampoo in gym class. I noticed he wore the exact same clothes both days, and he didn't bring lunch money the second day, either. And he ate every bit of his lunch again even though it was cafeteria macaroni and cheese, which is like stinky puke-yellow rubber. This time there were teachers around—I guess the custodian reported the mess on the floor—so Matt Kain didn't do anything except look ugly at him and yell a few things. Chav didn't bother to look up or yell back.

The next morning I packed lunch. A lot of lunch, just in case.


Excerpted from The Boy on a Black Horse by Nancy Springer. Copyright © 1994 Nancy Springer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Boy on a Black Horse 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book when I was in the forth grade, and I must have read it AT LEAST three times a year since then. I am now in the eighth grade. There arent many books that I can say that about...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book that I really enjoyed reading. In some parts are not for the faint-hearted dark & angsty thoughts from Chav. The end was a bit quick and short, but still a good ending and the characters will really make you believe in the story.