Jennifer Morris, Author . Delacorte $15.95 (198p) ISBN 978-0-385-73197-3

A unique setting and lifestyle mark this first novel about nine-year-old JT Kinnaman's coming-of-age. Springtime on the Kinnamans' Alaskan llama ranch is birthing season, and JT, the youngest of his family, has been promised the first newborn will be his to raise. In a gritty opening chapter, the first "cria" is stillborn, but its tiny twin survives. JT nurtures "Elmo," and the llama gets stronger—in deliberate contrast to JT's 86-year-old grandfather, whose life is ebbing. Despite the plot's predictability and the unappealing cover art, there's plenty here to attract boys, who'll envy JT his "FourTrax," the four-wheel vehicle he drives everywhere, including across the wilderness to rescue Elmo after a bear attacks the herd. Squeamish readers, be forewarned—the family burns the dead baby llama's carcass because fresh meat of any kind would attract predators—and the scene where JT's mother sets a llama's broken leg is hard to read without wincing. A subplot involving JT's baseball team seems tacked on, but the details are authentic. Middle-graders will likely be entranced by the unusual JT, who mucks barns before school, mixes up biscuit dough for two dozen and, when the injured Elmo can't nurse, milks a llama himself and feeds it to the animal through a rubber kitchen glove. Laura Ingalls Wilder's got nothing on this modern-day pioneer. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 03/14/2005
Release date: 02/01/2005
Hardcover - 198 pages - 978-0-385-90229-8
Paperback - 198 pages - 978-0-440-42024-8
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