If you ever have the chance to go to a rodeo and watch bull-riding, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. When I was a kid we visited the Calgary Stampede, and I remember seeing bull riders in action. It was wild. You can’t help but wonder what on earth could possibly possess someone to do such a crazy thing. There’s a reason to write a book right there, and that’s exactly what 2k9 author, Suzanne Morgan Williams has done. Bull Rider is her fiction debut, and it’s a fine story that lets you inside the head of one teen bull-rider, who is willing to risk it all to win big money and restore something of his injured brother’s lost dream.
Cam O’Mara is not the bull-rider in the O’Mara family. Not really. Skateboarding is Cam’s thing. His brother Ben was the town of Salt Lick’s bull-riding champion, but when Ben returns partially paralyzed from serving in Iraq, Cam somehow finds his way into the ring, even though he can’t decide if it’s terrifying or exhilarating. Cam discovers that hanging out at his brother’s old stomping ground, and trying on his brother’s talent, is one way for him to accept the traumatic events that his family is forced to deal with. When Cam has the chance to enter a $15 000 challenge to ride a super-nasty, 1600 pound bull named Ugly, his new-found bull-riding skills get put to the toughest of tests.
Speaking of talent, Williams writes completely convincing, real world characters. Reading Bull Rider is like walking into a family’s house right at the time they’re caught up in a tragic set of circumstances. Williams’ novel is about struggle, at home and in the countries where soldiers serve, and it is also about finding the things that make us happy and make us feel alive. I was impressed particularly by the way that she conveys the complexity of the relationship between Cam and Ben, how it was before Ben went away, and the ways in which it changes when he comes home injured and vulnerable.
Another real strength of the novel is that it will make readers consider the cost of war on families and on individuals, as in a split second, everything changes for Ben and for everyone who cares about him. There’s a lot in this story: war experiences, family drama, some risky rodeo tricks, a little skateboarding and a whole lot of hope. I’ll be waiting for Williams’ sophomore effort.
Bull Rider is released February 24, 2009, by McElderry Books.