cover image The Big Wander

The Big Wander

Will Hobbs. Atheneum Books, $17 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-689-31767-5

Set in 1962, this good-natured chronicle of a boy's summer-long search for his uncle is jam-packed with action and a heap of fortunate coincidences. After driving around the Southwest with his older brother Mike, Clay, 14, finds himself a job at a Monument Valley trading post. When a colorful prospector makes off with Mike's truck, leaving in exchange his trusty burro, Pal, Mike hightails it home. Clay, however, remains, and is duly rewarded with a snippet of news about his uncle. Encouraged, Clay packs up Pal and heads out; he happens upon the very family of Navajos that had befriended his uncle. The next stop is Utah, where Clay plunges headlong into his first romance, a jailbreak,stet comma and a noble scheme to liberate a herd of mustangs destined for the slaughterhouse. Hobbs's evident desire to educate his readers often leads to didactic dialogue: ``You know, there's only about twenty thousand mustangs left in the whole country. The lead mare's drinking now, then the next in rank and so on. If the stallion tries to drink before all the rest are finished, the mares will run him off.'' Despite a few ungainly moments, this novel has the kind of charm that just seems to come naturally when a likable kid is put into some gorgeous countryside with a bunch of wild horses. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)