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The Arizona Kid

The Arizona Kid

3.6 3
by Ron Koertge

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A trip out West to work at a racetrack — and a sojourn with a sophisticated gay uncle — bring unexpected discoveries in this quick-witted coming-of-age novel by the author of STONER & SPAZ and MARGAUX WITH AN X.

I was in the West. The Old West. The Wild West! A whole summer in a new place: a place away from my parents, a place so hot the girls


A trip out West to work at a racetrack — and a sojourn with a sophisticated gay uncle — bring unexpected discoveries in this quick-witted coming-of-age novel by the author of STONER & SPAZ and MARGAUX WITH AN X.

I was in the West. The Old West. The Wild West! A whole summer in a new place: a place away from my parents, a place so hot the girls probably wore bikinis to church, a place where I'd take a giant step toward my dream: becoming a vet. A place where — who knows? — anything might happen.

From the moment sixteen-year-old Billy steps off the train in Tucson, he knows this will be a summer unlike any he's seen in small-town Bradleyville, Missouri. For starters, he's staying with his cool gay uncle, who has managed to get him a job at the racetrack caring for horses. Still, Billy doesn't expect the horseracing world to be quite as rough and tumble as this — toiling side by side with a macho survivalist and falling hard for the feisty, romance-shy "exercise girl" Cara Mae. With his trademark fast-paced dialogue filled with wit and compassion, Ron Koertge tells the tale of an insecure teen who discovers that gaining stature involves more than Stetsons and boots — and that lessons on love and manhood come from the places you least expect.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After spending the summer in the land of cowboys with his gay Uncle Wes, Billy, 16-year-old shrimp and virgin, finds he's not only done a lot of growing up, but he's got Cora Mae, the girl of his dreams, to leave behind when he goes home to Missouri. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)
Children's Literature
Sixteen-year-old, very-straight Billy steps off the train from Missouri into the heat of Tucson with fear and trembling—and dripping with sunscreen—to spend the summer with his gay uncle Wes. With the help of the very cool Wes and a job as stable hand at the local racetrack, Billy reinvents himself. Filled with track lore, friendship with the survivalist Lew, and romance with the sharp, needy exercise girl Cara Mae, the novel sympathetically follows Billy's transformation from a short Mama's boy to a short, but proud—and tanned—independent young man. Written at the height of the U.S. AIDS epidemic, safe sex (both hetero and homosexual) is a strong underlying theme. The author writes humorously and well, painting quick, unforgettable images of secondary characters—like Lew's father, who prowls the house in camouflage, machine gun in hand, ready to take on all mutants while Lew's mother zones out on rock. Then there is the perfectly pressed Wes, not to mention the trainer Jack, who changes toupees with his moods. In short, this is a welcome reissue. 2005 (orig. 1988), Candlewick Press, Ages 14 up.
—Kathleen Karr
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up Billy thinks he's too short, too pale, too wimpy, and too tentative to make a place for himself in a world that is taller, tanner, classieruntil he spends a marvelous summer in Arizona living with his uncle and working with race horses. There he finds a wonderful girl who thinks he's terrific and a job at which he discovers he's really good. Above all, there's his gay uncle, whose positive portrayal is rarely seen in young adult novels. Billy's Uncle Wes is the framework that supports the story, and he is the most memorable of all the characters. Billy's father, who has always accepted Wes, knows that in sending Billy to Arizona, he is sending him to a man whose own battle with life has tempered in him a strength to guide and help a nephew in need of a little strength himself. With humor and wisdom and a few well-placed kicks, Wes gently pushes Billy to independence. Billy loses his virginity during this summer, develops some muscles, learns a lot about people and himself, and returns home with a new self-confidence. Koertge's marvelous wit (also evident in Where the Kissing Never Stops Little, 1987 ) out of the mouth of his young herois a delight, and his compassion for and understanding of Wes and Billy and his summer friends shapes a funny but affecting novel. Marjorie Lewis, Scarsdale Junior High School, N.Y.

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.76(w) x 7.02(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

It was Abby, in a white silk shirt with the top button undone. Both she and Lew had changed earrings. Hers had long feathers and his a little skeleton.

"Hi, Billy," she said as she put her arms around Lew. "Guess who's here." She nodded over his shoulder toward Cara Mae. "Why don't you mosey on over there."

"Yeah," said Lew. "And make sure you mosey. No strolling."

"What'll I say to her?"

"Anything," Lew advised. "Tell her you love those white pants."

"Don't say that," Abby broke in. "Just compliment her on her hat or something."

Some Stetson, great headgear, spiffy chapeau. I tried them all as I moseyed. Then I paused a few yards away. She was inspecting each and every horse. Intensely.

I inched closer. Where'd you buy that hat? I'd like a hat like that. Can I try on your hat?

"What the hell do you want?" she snapped.

The last thing I'd thought popped right out. "To try on your hat."

"Get bent," she said.

I reported to Abby and Lew.

What'd you say?" Abby asked.

"That I wanted to try on her hat."


"It just slipped out, okay?"

"So what'd she say?" asked Lew.

"She told me to get bent."

"Definitely promising," Lew said. "Definitely interested."

"Go back and try again," said Abby, shoving me.

THE ARIZONA KID by Ron Koertge. Copyright (c) 2005 by Ron Koertge. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

Meet the Author

Ron Koertge is the author of many prizewinning novels for teens, including STONER & SPAZ, winner of the PEN Literary Award. He says, "THE ARIZONA KID is one of my favorite novels. It combines Tucson and horseracing, and also serves as a memorial to a friend who passed away." Ron Koertge teaches in the MFA in Writing for Children Program at Vermont College.

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Arizona Kid 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
princessgraeter More than 1 year ago
The first thing I notices was the cover, and what an awesome cover it is! This book is about Billy Kennedy moving in with is Gay uncle, Wes, in Arizona for the summer. It is very good. Ron Koertge is probably one of my favorite authors.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The Arizona Kid' is a book that is probaly appropriate more for older kids, and not really more for boys or girls. It is about a 16 year old boy that goes down to Tucson, to live for the summer, with his gay uncle, while he is there, he learns lifes lessons, and what it is like to grow up, and mature. Although it was good, it was written in 1988, and has some flase information on certain things.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Arizona kid was a good book. What I liked about this book was when he went to Arizona he didn't really make any friends. But when he went to his uncles farm he met a horse and they became best friends. Every where he went the horse went. The thing I didn't like about it was the horse died in the end and after that the kid grew up and had friends.