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4.0 1
by Helen V. Griffith

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All Nickel wants is to play soccer with his new friends, and enjoy the feeling of being part of a family ... finally. But Robbo and his gang are there at every turn, provoking, taunting, bullying. It takes the ghost of a horse named Cougar and a mysterious bicycle with a mind of it's own to free Nickel from a violent past in this haunting middle-grade page


All Nickel wants is to play soccer with his new friends, and enjoy the feeling of being part of a family ... finally. But Robbo and his gang are there at every turn, provoking, taunting, bullying. It takes the ghost of a horse named Cougar and a mysterious bicycle with a mind of it's own to free Nickel from a violent past in this haunting middle-grade page turner.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A phantom horse and an unlikely farm couple offer comfort to a boy with a troubled past. Nickel gets a chance to make a fresh start when his adoptive parents--his mother's sister, Starla, and her husband, Joe--take the boy to Joe's parents' farmhouse for an extended visit. Just as they approach the farm, a mysterious black horse appears from nowhere. In the days that follow, the startling reappearances of the ghostly animal (seen only by Nickel and sometimes by Joe's father) become intertwined with Nickel's struggle to fit into a real family and the conflicts he has with a school bully. As Nickel learns how to harness the wild spirit of Cougar, the horse, he also finds strength within himself to turn his life around. By wisely de-emphasizing Nickel's emotional scars and choosing instead to concentrate on the positive choices he makes, Griffith (Georgia Music; Journal of a Teenage Genius) keeps her narrative upbeat and pertinent for a young audience. Told in the third person from Nickel's point of view, the novel builds through terse phrases in a stream-of-consciousness effect that allows readers to witness Nickel's conscious attempts to change his ways. The story's ending seems somewhat anticlimactic, but the satisfying resolution for Nickel himself more than compensates. Ages 8-up. (May) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Nickel is traveling with his sister and her husband Joe to the family farm where Joe grew up. As they near the farm, a black horse appears out of nowhere. No one else sees him. Nickel begins to settle in with Joe's parents, and learns that a black horse named Cougar was killed in a barn fire. Is the magnificent animal he is seeing a ghost? When Joe starts school, he has a run in with the class bully, Rocco. His extraordinary skill at soccer challenges Rocco's leadership, and because he makes Rocco look bad, Nickel pays dearly. Mysteriously, Joe's old bicycle appears near the barn and, with assistance from Joe and his Dad, it is put into working condition. The bike begins to take on a personality reminiscent of Cougar, the dead horse. Together they are able to defeat Rocco. The story is complex and surreal, but readers will be rooting for Nickel. They will also share his happiness at finding a new home and strong family in Joe's parents.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-In this unusual story, a phantom horse, a school bully, and a bike with a mind of its own help to change a boy's life from that of an outsider to a school hero. When Nickel, his Aunt Starla, and her husband, Joe, go to live with Joe's parents on their farm, Nickel is fascinated by a black horse named Cougar that died in a barn fire and that only he and Joe's father can see. At school, the boy attracts the attention of Robbo, the school bully and top soccer player. Nickel also happens to be an excellent soccer player, and, not wanting to share the spotlight, Robbo goes out of his way to challenge and threaten the new boy. As the rivalry escalates, the spirit of the mysterious horse seems to become reincarnated into an old bicycle that is determined to protect Nickel. In a final confrontation, the bike defeats Robbo and his buddies and becomes a school legend. Nickel is an appealing hero who is trying to improve his life and find a place where he belongs. Introducing the supernatural into an otherwise realistic story will be satisfying to children who enjoy this type of twist. Others will wish that Nickel had been able to find a way to deal with the school bully without supernatural intervention. A fast-paced read in which fantasy and reality are compellingly intertwined.-Carol Schene, Taunton Public Schools, MA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Just as Nickel, his aunt Starla, and her husband, Joe, turn into the farm road that leads to Joe's parents' house, the boy is astonished to see a magnificent black horse dash in front of their car, narrowly avoiding being hit. Neither Starla nor Joe saw the horse, and it turns out that there is no longer a horse on the farm. Just before Joe came back, the barn burned down, and Joe's horse, Cougar, died in the blaze. As the makeshift family settles in with the Clendaniels, Nickel learns more about the horse, and how it was jealous of Joe's bike and once tried to nip at it. When Nickel is pursued by bullies at his new school, he chooses the ruined old barn as a hiding place; as he crouches, he feels a hunk of metal that is warm to his touch, while his pursuers complain of getting cut. Nickel has found, in the place where Cougar died, Joe's old bike; he and Joe's father, Pop, restore it. When the bully strikes again, the spirit of Cougar, inhabiting the bike, saves Nickel. It's a strange tale, weakened by the supernatural element, yet horse lovers will find it comforting. In the satisfying ending, as Nickel becomes part of a loving family and comes to understand himself a little better, readers won't fail to be moved. (Fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Age Range:
8 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The horse came out of nowhere, out of blackness, to gallop beside the car.Nickel almost yelled, it was so sudden, so unexpected.Through the window he could see the bog animal's shoulder muscles moving under its dark hide.Then it put on speed, raced ahead of the car, cut across in front of it, disappeared in the night shadows on the other side of the lane.

"Wow," Nickel said. "We could have hit it."

"Hit what?" Starla asked from the front seat.

"The horse." What did she think?

Joe, driving, looked at him in the rearview mirror. "What horse?"

The horse had run right in front of their faces.They had to be kidding him.But Nickel wasn't in a kidding mood.They'd been driving too long, and he was too hungry.So if they were waiting for an argument, too bad.Nickel just wanted to get where they were going.

They were almost there.According to Joe, this overgrown rutted land led to his parents' farm - the one Joe had run away from five years ago.He'd never been back.Until now.

They drove up to a white box of a house smothered in bushes, covered in vines, knee deep in fallen leaves.Drove to the back and pulled up beside a pickup truck decorated with cats.When Joe opened the car door, the cats jumped off, streaked away.Nickel and Starla got out, followed Joe.Not tot the house, though.Joe went straight for the barn, through the open door in the stone wall. Nickel smelled an old smoke smell, unpleasant, sad.He would have followed, but Joe said, "Don't come in." That's when Nickel saw that the door wasn't just open.It was gone, burned away.Inside the doorway there were only a few feet of packed earth to walk on and then a big hole where thefloorboards has fallen into the barnyard below.

Joe came out of the barn looking sick."I can't believe this."

"Your mother told you the barn burned," Starla said.

Joe shook his head."I couldn't picture it."

Light flashed as the house door opened.A woman rushed out, calling, "Josiah, Josiah, is it you?

They has to go trough a little fuss then, the woman hanging on to Joe, dragging him in the door, Joe coming back out, beckoning to Starla and Nickel.They passed through vestibule piled with newspapers and into a stuffy, dim kitchen.

The woman was half crying, holding Joe away from her to look at him, hugging him again, Joe half laughing, patting her on the back when she hugged him.

A man came to the kitchen door, stood scowling.A blue TV light flickered from the room behind him.The mother was really crying now. "Lindale, look who's back."

"I see him," the man said.

Joe detached himself from his mother, faced his father."This is just a visit," he said."Mom wanted to meet my wife."

The man tilted his head toward Nickel."You ain't been married long enough to grow that one."

Starla burst out laughing, the way she did a lot, bright and happy and loud.It sort of stopped everybody in their tracks. She reached out, put her arm around Nickel. "He was my sister's kid," she said."He's ours now."

Nickel didn't like being talked about like a lost dog."I'm Nicholas," he said to the man, "and I want to know if we're staying here or if you're going to kick us out."

There were surprised looks.Nickel was surprised , too.He hadn't meant to come out with that, but he was tired and he was hungry.He wanted to get somewhere that he belonged, even if it was a motel room, even if it was just the car.

"I'm not going to kick you out."The man turned, headed back toward the flickering TV light.Everybody just stood there for a minute.Then Joe followed his father.

The woman looked at them sort of helplessly, as if getting them here had been her whole plan and she didn't know what to do next.

"I'll tell you what, Mrs. Clendaniel," Starla said. "I'm just about starved to death, and so is Nickel."

The woman acted like that was the best news she had ever heard.Hurried to the refrigerator.Pulled out little covered bowls, dumped things into pan, put pans on all the burners. Starla got up and tried to help, but "No," the woman said. "Just sit and rest, tell me how you are, how Josiah has been."

Starla sat. "Joe's fine.Looking for a better job."

The woman stopped working, sat heavily at the table.:I just wanted him here.His father, since Josiah left, all these years, it's been -"Her eyes teared up, overflowed."Everything's been let go, place is a mess, then the barn - it's been three weeks since the barn went, and he hasn't done a thing, just sits in front of that TV."

Something on the stove sizzled as it boiled over, and the woman jumped up, moved the pan, looked in it."It's all right."

Went to the door, called, "Come on for a bite."

Between them, she and Starla set the table, dished out the odds and ends of food.Joe and his father came out, looking all right, not like they'd been arguing or anything.Joe had said they couldn't get along, that he was only making this visit because his mother had begged him so hard.Nickel was glad they weren't fighting.He wanted to stay and eat.

There wasn't much talking at the table.Nickel thought maybe so much had happened since Joe had been gone that nobody knew where to start.Then he remembered that Joe and his mother had talked by phone plenty, so that wasn't it.

Joe's mother kept apologizing about the food."I'd have cooked a nice dinner, bit I wasn't sure when to expect you."

Nickel wondered what a nice dinner was to her.There was enough food here to feed an army."And I wish I'd known about the boy."Worried to herself about where he would sleep. "There's that back bedroom," she muttered, "but it's loaded with junk."

"I can sleep anywhere," Nickel said."On the floor.Anywhere.I don't care."

Starla laughed."He really doesn't. He's used to everything."

"There's a couch," the man said.No smile, but Nickel could tell it was all right with him if they stayed.

Joe was acting more at home all the time.He asked some questions about the fire.His father didn't say a lot, but at least he answered.You could see that Joe's mother was relieved.

Then Joe said, "How's old Cougar?" and Nickel felt a change in the air.Joe didn't notice at first."Cougar's my horse," he explained to Nickel."Meanest horse you ever saw. Except with me.He used to follow me around like a dog."

Then he felt it too.Saw his parents faces.His father, half angry. "Didn't you tell him?"

His mother tearful, defensive."I couldn't."

"Couldn't what?" Joe said.

Nickel had already guessed.Joe looked like he had, too, but his father said it anyway."Cougar died in the fire."

Joe looked shocked, sorry, guilty."Poor old Cougar," he said.

"He wouldn't come out," Joe's father said. "He was scared of the flames.I went after him, but he went farther back in.Things started falling, and I had to get out of there."No expression at all, but you could tell how bad he felt.

Joe just shook his head.

"You know how he was," Joe's father said."You were the only one who could do anything with him."

"He had funny ways," Joe's mother said.

"I know."Joe almost smiled, thinking about it."Remember when I got the bike?How jealous he was?He hated it when I rode that bike.He would run along with me and try to nip it."

They all laughed in a sad sort of way.At least they were laughing.

"I wish you could have seen him," Joe told Nickel."He was big, powerful.Black as night."

"Like the horse we saw on the way in," Nickel said.

The old man looked sharply at Nickel."What horse?"

"He thought he saw a horse," Starla said, "but it was just shadows."

"It was Cougar," the man said.The word gave Nickel cold chills.The way he said it.

"Your scaring the boy." Joe's mother got up, began clearing the table. :He half scares me," she said, going around here saying, 'I just saw Cougar,' or 'Old cougar's out by the barn wall.' " She laughed nervously."Why would a horse want to come back anyway?"

Copyright 1999 by Helen V. Griffith Cougar. Copyright � by Helen Griffith. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Cougar 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's a good book, I recomend it to anyone. It's short but really good!! Read It you'll love it