An abused boy finds comrades-in-arms among his fellow inmates when he's sent to a remote reform school high in the Rocky Mountains.
Texas-based debut novelist Hilton employs a clear-eyed adolescent voice in this story of a young man lost in the wilderness. The story is set in 1963 and stars the tough-as-nails William Sheppard, a 13-year-old from Chicago's South Side. After years of abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father, Will stabs him (though not fatally) with his Davy Crockett Explorers penknife. For his crimes, a judge sends the young man to the Swope Ranch Boys' Reformatory, a desolate and corrupt detention center on Colorado's rugged west slope. On his very first day, Will is attacked by Eddie Tokus, for the simple reason that it's the school's tradition to let the last boy in beat on the next inmate—with the reformatory's wardens and guards betting on the ferocious contest. He wins, earning the nickname "Nosebleed." "Maybe that's what the ranch is," he offers. "It's the same universal rule any kid faces: swim with the group or sink alone." To keep his hide among the den of thieves and hooligans, Will befriends three other boys: Coop Kingston, a regretful firebug who burned his adopted family's home to the ground; Micky Baines, whose rebellious nature is overwhelmed by frontier violence; and Benny Fritch, an innocent who was sent up because he took the rap for his little brother. The winding tale of their passage through this world is marked by inevitable violence, first from Frank Kroft, the chief guard who kills one of the boys. Later, their bond is shattered by the introduction of John Church, a prisoner who deserves his sentence because of his uncontrollable rage. No one is left unmarked, especially Will.
Not altogether unflawed, but a heartfelt portrait of young men in a bygone age.
From the Publisher
“As heart-wrenching as The Outsiders and as compelling as This Boy’s Life, Kings of Colorado is a coming-of-age story that grabs you from the first sentence and takes you on an intense but rewarding journey. David E. Hilton’s powerful and riveting debut is a must-read.”
—Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
"Set in the magnificent Colorado mountains, this coming-of-age tale provides scenes of gripping action as well as a sympathetic yet unvarnished look into the lives of troubled teens. It should appeal to thoughtful young adults and to those who still remember being one."
“Heartbreaking portrayal of innocence lost in the most profound sense. A former middle school teacher, Hilton clearly understands the struggle of adolescence, and he interrogates that struggle with finesse and admirable curiosity by pushing his characters to their most extreme limits. Will and his compatriots are achingly sympathetic, and their bond with each other and communal will to survive is riveting and thought-provoking.”
“David E. Hilton’s Kings of Colorado, a book that [is] equal parts Annie Proulx and Larry McMurtry set in Colorado in the 1960s.”
—Dallas Morning News
“Hard, sad, stirring, poignant, and utterly beautiful. Hilton has written a coming of age story that will be remembered for its characters as well as its harrowing plot.”
—Naseem Rakha, international bestselling author of The Crying Tree
"A heartfelt portrait of young men in a bygone age."
"For years I have searched for an heir to Golding's Lord of the Flies, and this is it. But in Kings of Colorado, Hilton allows you to look into these characters and see that redemption is possible. The story of all things wild—wild horses, wild boys, and the wild landscape that looms above it all—this book is as heartbreaking and as hopeful as anything you will read this year. A fine novel."
—Will Lavender, New York Times bestselling author of Obedience
“Hilton’s writing is brutal and poetic, his images haunting. A raw and powerful debut.”
—Noah Charney, international bestselling author of The Art Thief and Stealing the Mystic Lamb
"Hilton's portrayal of adolescent friendship is authentic and touching, and the story moves at a speedy pace as the boys' innocence is shattered in ever deeper and more profound ways. . . .A sort of Stand by Me behind bars."