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VOYAFifteen-year-old Billy has always been restless and a troublemaker because he feels that he does not fit in with his post-Civil War St. Joseph, Missouri, family. When he finds out that his mother is not his real mother, he steals his stepfather's money and heads west to Virginia City, Montana Territory, to find his real father. Almost immediately, he is tricked by swindlers Jackson and Rock into joining up with a bullwhacking team that is driving oxen along the Oregon Trail to Virginia City. Along the trail, he is let down repeatedly by the adults surrounding him, and eventually he learns, with the help of a mentor on the team, to become more self-reliant. Although this book includes fascinating and vivid details about the West and hints at the many dangers that faced travelers on the trails west, such as the conflict between Billy and the Pike County boys, most story lines never develop, leaving many dangling threads. It is further exacerbated when the plot ends abruptly, with no resolution to Billy's outer conflict of finding his father. Despite these flaws, the pure western flavor of the book will attract readers who appreciate the genre or are looking to get a sense of life in the Old West. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J S (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Simon & Schuster, 224p., Ages 11 to 18.
—Rebecca Hogue Wojahn