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Abilene, 1871. Will Merritt is fiercely protective of the cattle trade that made his father’s fortune. Idolizing the cowboys who flood the streets each summer, Will and his friends are drawn to Abilene’s exotic Texastown district—a powderkeg of saloons and brothels so notorious that the mayor has ...
Abilene, 1871. Will Merritt is fiercely protective of the cattle trade that made his father’s fortune. Idolizing the cowboys who flood the streets each summer, Will and his friends are drawn to Abilene’s exotic Texastown district—a powderkeg of saloons and brothels so notorious that the mayor has hired the West’s most famous gunman, Wild Bill Hickok, to police its streets. Yet even with Hickok as marshal, Abilene boils with deep divisions.
The townsfolk resent the migrant settlers whose new farms are slicing up the rangeland. And no one is more intolerant than Will’s best friend, Jasper, who delights in tormenting any farmer he encounters. But Will finds himself torn when he meets the beautiful and beguiling Anna, whose dignity and determination test his deepest beliefs.
Then Will’s father reveals a stunning secret that challenges Abilene’s future, one that makes the Merritts outcasts. And when Wild Bill’s tenure as marshal comes to a violent head, Will realizes that everything—his family, his friends, and the only home he’s ever known—could be gone in an instant, leaving only an empty wilderness once again.
Winner of the 2013 Spur Award for Best Western Juvenile Fiction
Posted April 26, 2013
Very good read! I enjoyed each of the characters. Felt like I was right there with Will watching him go through his adventures.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 9, 2012
"Wide Open" delivers every element I want in a book: good writing, realistic characters, and a great story. And as a bonus, the book also supplies a good dose of page-turning suspense, historical information about a pivotal time in the settlement of the American West, and most importantly, it left me feeling richer as a person, richer to have known Will Merritt, his family, and all the other folks who live on the pages of Bjornson's novel. "Wide Open" takes an honored place in my bookshelf as one of those treasures I will return to over and over, for the sheer pleasure of experiencing that richness again.
Author Larry Bjornson draws the reader in right away, with wonderful, well-crafted prose, and keeps us riveted until the last page, painting one cinematic scene after another, in luscious detail, transporting us to the time and place of the American frontier just after the Civil War, during one summer which historically couldn't possibly pack more punch, action-wise: this was the summer feared gunman Wild Bill Hickok was called into Abilene, Kansas to keep order, just as the interests and tempers of two clashing populations - the carousing, cattle-driving cowboys and the dirt-poor, hard-working settlers - were flaring into an unstoppable showdown.
Bjornson puts the reader right in the middle of the action with an extremely likeable fifteen-year-old narrator named Will Merritt, whose father becomes the agent of the turmoil that erupts in Abilene that summer. Will's life is turned upside-down as he finds himself torn between loyalties, facing not only danger and loss but also his own conscience.
Will gives us a wide-eyed, youthful window on all the action, and there is more action packed into this 380-page novel than I would have believed possible. There are cattle drives, barroom brawls, accidents, emergencies, stunts, and adventures, too many to count. Each one is drawn in sprawling cinematic detail, full of sights and sounds and smells of Old West life that put the reader right in the middle of things. There's the time the longhorn steer falls through the....well, I don't want to give anything away, let's just say there is one surprise after another, all woven into a meaningful whole by the thoughtful narration of young Will.
Possibly the most compelling reason for me to recommend the book is the quality of Bjornson's writing. His prose is so well-crafted that it bears reading slowly, so that one can savor the language. Bjornson's ability to evoke the sensory experience of being present at a scene is remarkable. His ability to make the reader feel like his characters are absolutely real people, through wonderfully observant external and internal dialogue, brings not only a caring for these characters, but also a recognition of the ways we share the same foibles, and we feel what they feel. The poignancy of situations encountered by Will are handled with such sensitivity by Bjornson that I was moved to tears many times.
Bjornson treats us to unexpected little moments of self-honesty and insight from his narrator that are rare in a novel. Will screws up sometimes, and he knows it, but we are happy to forgive him, because his humanity always shines through. Will's initial attraction to his first love, Anna, is fraught with conflicting emotions that Bjornson delights in sharing with us, and not without a considerable amount of humor. All the characters in "Wide Open" - whether cowboy, settler, or townie, whether young'n or adult - are complex and deeply human. Bjornson says in an interview, "Everyone in the book, even the best of them, at some point behaves badly. And even the worst are capable of honorable actions."
"Wide Open" is traditional in style - unapologetically old-fashioned, and I want to call it "reader-friendly." There is no graphic violence, no cynicism, and not even any bad language that I can recall. In summary, it's a very satisfying read - wonderfully written, fun, emotionally satisfying, with sympathetic characters, a palpable sense of time and place, and cinematic action and lots of it. I can't wait for Bjornson's next offering.
Posted September 16, 2012
This is a charming story written in clear prose about a teenage boy, Will Merritt, coming of age in the wild days of 1870’s Abilene, Kansas. It is the story of the wild, hard living Texas cowboys that arrived annually with their longhorns and turned Abilene on the south side of the tracks into a Gomorrah of gambling and boozing. It is the story of Wild Bill Hickok, hired as a marshal by the townspeople, and his efforts to keep order that earned the wrath of the Texans and the awe and admiration of young Will. But Wide Open is much more than the story of Will, Wild Bill, and the other colorful characters that populate this tale. It is the story of the broad, expansive Kansas prairie and the homesteading farmers who clashed with the itinerant cattlemen as they sought to forge a new civilization from the unyielding land. Wide Open is both a reference to the overwhelming vastness of the prairie, the thunderous power of nature and, for the sometimes hapless settlers, the wide open and boundless horizon of their hopes and visions of the future as they built a new way of life for themselves and the nation. Wide Open is a wonderful, heartfelt story. A great read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2012
Posted July 8, 2012
Wide Open is a wonderful classic Western with intrigue, suspense and a interesting historical perspective. This book is a great read. Larry Bjornson makes the story feel real!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 1, 2014
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