Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri (Candlewick, 2011)
Summary from publisher:
Suddenly, something big and white bumps up against the car, and I jump. I think I must be dreamin', 'cause I just saw a horse run by.
When Cole's mom dumps him in the mean streets of Philly to live iwth the dad he's never met, the last thing he expects to see is a horse -- let alone a stable full of them. He may not know much about cowboys, but what he knows for sure is that cowboys ain't black, and they don't live in the 'hood. But here, horses are a way of life, and soon Cole's days of skipping school and getting in trouble in Detroit have been replaced by shoveling muck and trying not to get stomped on.
At first, all Cole can think about is how to ditch these ghetto cowboys and get home, but when the City threatens to shut down the stables -- and take away the horse that Cole has come to think of as his own -- he knows it's time to step up and fight back.
Inspired by the real-life inner-city horsemen of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, Ghetto Cowboy is a timeless urban western about learning to stand up for what's right -- the Cowboy Way.
What a surprising story! I had no idea before reading this book that urban stables existed beyond those of mounted police officers or tourist-toting carriages. The story of Cole and the men (for there are mainly men in this story) who he comes to know and respect over the course of the book is intriguing and original. They bring a new meaning to the words "urban cowboy."
What is timeless is the theme of this story; that of parental love and acceptance. Cole has grown up without a father and is on the verge of dropping out of school and beginning a life on the street. He craves the approval of his mother, even as he self-destructs. When he first finds himself in Philly, he wants nothing to do with his father, but eventually, through watching his father's actions along with those of Tex and the other cowboys, Cole learns the meaning of integrity and selflessness and finds his way into his father's heart.
Put this book into the hands of the middle school or high school reader who loves realistic fiction. There is much to appreciate here.