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When Jake and Billy’s mother died, their father’s sister moved in to help raise the boys. And when their father left to find work in California, Jake promised to take care of his little brother. But soon another man infected their home. Bruises started to appear on his aunt’s face, and Jake knew he had to protect Billy. Though Jake was only twelve and his brother nine, Jake took Billy and set off with nothing more than a bundle of clothes, their father’s pistol and the last letter he sent them.
To convince his brother to leave, Jake tells Billy they are going to find their father in California. Once on the road, Jake has to protect the younger Billy from the dangers they encounter on their long journey. He also tries to shield him from the truth about their father, a truth that could break the bond between brothers.
Combining the poetry of place in Thoreau’s prose with the stark narrative voice of a Cormac McCarthy novel, Schwarz creates a weighty debut novel of two young brothers’ odyssey across the plains of the western United States. Banish any notions that this is a quaint, coming-of-age story for young adult readers. The gritty mining towns, bars, brothels and the harsh open country of the “wild west” during America’s western expansion are the backdrop for an exploration of the themes of brotherhood, honor and self-reliance. Readers who identify with protective, older brother Jake or earnest, younger brother Billy will be rewarded throughout the brothers’ journey with moments tender and trying, all the way to the cathartic last scenes.
Copyright © 2015 by Axel Schwarz