cover image Gib Rides Home

Gib Rides Home

Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Britt. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32267-6

Inspired by her father's stories of his turn-of-the-century childhood in a Nebraska orphanage, Snyder (The Egypt Game) fashions an exceptionally atmospheric and suspenseful tale. As the book opens, Gibson Whittaker, who had been farmed out to wealthy Mr. Thornton, is being returned to the Lovell House Home for Orphaned and Abandoned Boys, against all precedent. The perspective moves quickly from that of the amazed boys to focus on Gib, backing up to his initial arrival at the orphanage six years before. Gib remembers almost nothing about his early years, but he is remarkably self-possessed, a virtue that sees him through the practiced cruelties of teachers, administrators and some fellow orphans (although most other boys look on him with awe). When he goes to Mr. Thornton's Rocking M Ranch, his fear that he will be literally worked to death (a tragedy that befell another orphan) recedes as mysteries loom. What is Gib's connection to the ranch, and why is it that neither Hy, the hired man, nor Mr. Thornton's invalid wife will tell him much about his mother, whom they both knew? Snyder thickens the action with subplots involving Gib's marked ability with horses and his prickly friendship with the Thorntons' high-strung daughter. Snyder combines an ingenious beginning, which discloses an end to the interlude at the Rocking M, with a masterly rendering of a sympathetic hero to instill in readers an insistent curiosity about Gib's fate--most will want to devour this meaty novel in one long stretch. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)