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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Review: Ghetto Cowboy

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri. Candlewick. 2011. Audio: Candlewick on Brilliance Audio. 2011. Narrated by JD Jackson. Odyssey Honor Book.

The Plot:  Twelve year old Cole’s mother doesn’t know what to do with Cole. He’s cut so much school that he may be left back, he’s getting into trouble, there’s nothing else for her to try  — so she drives from Detroit to Philadelphia, to leave him with the father he hasn’t seen since he was an infant.

Northwest Philly is just like Detroit… Except for the horses. Horses? In the city? And his father is one of the people who rides and takes care of horses? Impossible, thinks Cole: cowboys don’t live in cities. Cowboys aren’t black. His father can’t be a cowboy!

Except his father is a cowboy. Cole is about to learn some lessons: about life, about family, about horses. And about cowboys.

The Good: JD Jackson’s narration was excellent! I felt like Cole was right there in the car with me, telling me his story.

Cole, his mother, and his father are all stubborn. Cole is skipping school and getting into trouble, even though he’s smart enough to know better. His mother was stubborn enough to exclude Cole’s father from their lives and, now that she fears that her son is on a path that she is powerless to stop, is stubborn enough to drive him from Detroit to Philadelphia to a man he doesn’t know, in a last ditch effort to put Cole on a better path. Cole’s father is stubborn enough that when Cole’s mother took her infant son and left, he let them go. Cole is stubborn in his reluctance to see anything positive about the stranger that is his father.

Cole may be stubborn, but he’s not so stubborn to let pride or anger get in his way. Despite himself, he is curious about these “ghetto cowboys,” and learns a bit about their history and culture. Cole connects to one of the horses, and that connection, becoming responsible for another’s well being and safety, gives him a positive place to put his stubbornness, his independence, his strength and intelligence. It’s not just caring for a horse: it’s fighting for them. Cole’s visit to his father coincides with a city crack down on such urban stables, which threatens both the stables, their horses, and their riders, but also the positive contributions those cowboys and stables make to their local communities.

I love learning about subcultures; here, learning about cowboys in cities. Who knew? I didn’t! As G. Neri explains in a guest post at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog, Cynsations, the ghetto cowboy plot is based on real life. There really are such stables! Before this book, when I heard “horse” I thought of two types of people. Wealthy people, who can afford to buy and care for a horse. Or people in the country, who work with horses. This opened up my eyes to a bigger world.

Because I loved Cole. Because JD Jackson’s narration made me feel like this was happening around me. Because I am fascinated by these cowboys. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: Guys Lit Wire; Finding Wonderland; The Happy Nappy Bookseller; Girls in the Stacks (with author interview).

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. Valerie Hawkins says

    The Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club! Read more about it at Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club is featured in the music video for the song “Feel the Love” by the UK band, Rudimental:

    Fletcher Street’s riding community has been a part of the Philadelphia community for over 100 years. For many of those years, Fletcher Street was part of a larger urban horse community that numbered in over 50 stables throughout Philadelphia. Today, it is well known that the area surrounding Fletcher Street has increasingly struggled with unemployment and drugs overtaking the community; the men and boys of Fletcher Street have in turn struggled to maintain their horses, stables and way of life as conditions have become increasingly difficult.

  2. Valerie, thanks so much for the links. It’s an impressive program; and I hope GHETTO COWBOY & the attention it gets brings attention to the real-life cowboys.