Concrete Cowboy by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. Candlewick Entertainment, 2021. 9781536217353
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? When Cole’s mom finds out that he has skipped a month of school, she tearfully drives him through the night from Detroit to Philly and leaves him at the house of his dad, whom he has never met. Cole’s dad Harper “is different,” and Cole finds out just how different when he enters the living room to find a horse is stabled there. The world of Black urban cowboys quickly becomes Cole’s world. This group of young and old Philadelphians saves horses who have been retired from racing and are destined for the slaughterhouse. They reach out to the kids in the neighborhood and train them in caring for and riding the horses, giving the kids an outlet away from gangs and crime. Relations are tense between Cole and Harper, but when the city threatens to shut down the cowboys’ makeshift stables and confiscates their horses, Cole hatches a plan to steal them back, enacting the “cowboy justice” he learned about from Harper.
Cole, a 12 year old teetering on the edge of adolescence, is a riveting and believable character who is deeply hurt by his mother’s seeming abandonment, and feels adrift in a world that is totally new to him. But he becomes attached to the horse he names Boo, and slowly adapts to “the cowboy way.” Short chapters and occasional full page page black and white art complements the text and fleshes out the urban community of Black people and their horses. Cole narrates his story, and his urban slang feels real. The story was originally published as Ghetto Cowboy in 2011 and has been retitled and re-released as a tie-in to the 2021 movie Concrete Cowboy.
Anything you didn’t like about it? This isn’t a criticism of the story, but a concern that the audience for the book is younger than that of the movie, from which images are pictured on the cover. The movie is rated R.
To whom would you recommend this book? For fans of realistic urban fiction, ages 10-14. It could also be used for older readers as a hi/lo text.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and middle school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it ? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA
Date of review: September 2, 2021