In prose as spare as it is evocative, Irwin ( The Original Freddie Ackerman ) crafts a moving introduction to the savage ``winning'' of the American West. Isolated with his taciturn Quaker stepfather on a parched Western Kansas homestead, 13-year-old narrator Caleb's only confidant is Dandy, a spirited horse that he raised from a foal. Instructed by his savvy new neighbor Athens (who, he's surprised to discover, is a girl), Caleb trains the skittish colt while Webb, his stepfather, is away for the summer working on the Santa Fe Trail. In autumn, desperately needing cash once again, Webb sells Dandy to Custer's Seventh Cavalry at Fort Hays. Caleb runs away to Fort Hays, where, as ``Dandy's boy,'' he earns his keep as a groom for the new mount of the self-styled ``General'' (actually, colonel) and his wife. Caleb's romance with army life comes to a brutal end when he observes firsthand the massacre of the Cheyenne--and the slaughter of some 800 of their ponies--at the Battle of the Washita. ``It didn't make sense why women and children got shot. . . . Wars were supposed to be what men did to each other,'' says the horrified youth. Irwin's themes are thoughtfully developed and well worth pondering. Ages 10-14. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 05/02/1994 Release date: 05/01/1994 Genre: Children's
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