cover image Cougar


Helen V. Griffith. Greenwillow Books, $15 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-688-16337-2

A phantom horse and an unlikely farm couple offer comfort to a boy with a troubled past. Nickel gets a chance to make a fresh start when his adoptive parents--his mother's sister, Starla, and her husband, Joe--take the boy to Joe's parents' farmhouse for an extended visit. Just as they approach the farm, a mysterious black horse appears from nowhere. In the days that follow, the startling reappearances of the ghostly animal (seen only by Nickel and sometimes by Joe's father) become intertwined with Nickel's struggle to fit into a real family and the conflicts he has with a school bully. As Nickel learns how to harness the wild spirit of Cougar, the horse, he also finds strength within himself to turn his life around. By wisely de-emphasizing Nickel's emotional scars and choosing instead to concentrate on the positive choices he makes, Griffith (Georgia Music; Journal of a Teenage Genius) keeps her narrative upbeat and pertinent for a young audience. Told in the third person from Nickel's point of view, the novel builds through terse phrases in a stream-of-consciousness effect that allows readers to witness Nickel's conscious attempts to change his ways. The story's ending seems somewhat anticlimactic, but the satisfying resolution for Nickel himself more than compensates. Ages 8-up. (May)