Polo Cowboy by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson

Polo Cowboy by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. Candlewick, 2021. 9781536207118

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre:  Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book? Cole is starting high school while living with his dad, whom he just recently met (in the previous book), as well as trying to manage caring for his horse Boo before school and holding down a job. When he meets a girl named Ruthie who’s into polo, there just might be a little romance – but is she out of his league? They both deal with subtle and overt racism at the military academy where Cole is working and Ruthie is a student. Will polo bring them together, or tear them apart?

Lots is going on here: the job, a new school, a new friendship, a new sport, and the continuing challenge of living with his dad. I like that Neri gets the action going quickly – although there isn’t recap from the first book (Concrete Cowboy), new readers will most likely pick up the setting and characters. Cole feels real and relatable, and his entry into the world of polo and an elite military school definitely is a culture shock which readers may relate to. Ruthie has vitiligo, and Cole struggles to ‘see’ her despite the distraction of her mottled skin coloring, and it’s a good lesson for readers to look beyond physical traits to the person inside. The black and white illustrations, while less numerous than in the previous book, still are a nice accompaniment to the straightforward language, helping to flesh out the milieu of polo and elite schools.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I felt that Cole and Ruthie’s relationship seemed rushed. A key character from the previous book is murdered, which adds too much to the already full plate of challenges for Cole, in my opinion. The murder may have had more resonance if the character had been fleshed out more, as he was in the first book.

To whom would you recommend this book? Middle schoolers and above who enjoyed Concrete Cowboy will be happy to reprise the story of Cole. Fans of realistic fiction should enjoy this true story of urban black cowboys. And how many books are out there with polo athletes?!

Who should buy this book? Middle and high schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it ? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: October 11, 2021

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