I’ll probably watch Once Upon A Time In the West or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid after writing this review. Thank you Erin Bowman for giving the YA genre a much needed Western. I know there were two other YA Western novels written this year, one of which I’ve already read and enjoyed. The other is sitting on my bookcase, waiting patiently to be picked up. But Vengeance Road is a classic Western tale, complete with saloon fights, six-shooters, quick draws and the lust for gold pumping through men’s veins.
If you haven’t heard about this book yet then let me give you a quick rundown of what it’s about. Kate Thompson returns home one day and finds her father’s lifeless body swinging from a tree, while their house burns behind him. After cutting him done, burying him and salvaging a few items from the house, Kate saddles up and leaves on a journey to find and kill the men responsible for her father’s death. But she doesn’t travel alone. She is soon flanked by Jesse and Will Colton and Liluye, an Apache girl who serves as a guide for the journey into the Superstition Mountains. There will be blood, there will be death, and in the end there will vengeance.
There’s a lot I liked in this book. Kate is a rarity in the YA genre. From page one until the very end, she’s a strong girl who takes no lip from anyone. Her father taught her how to shoot a rifle and she eventually learns how to be quick on the draw. She can survive in the rough and rugged Arizona terrain, but she eventually learns that it’s helpful to have people by your side. I loved Kate. She’s not a ‘proper’ girl and she doesn’t pretend to be. She’s more comfortable in flannel and jeans, with a gun hanging low around her waist than she is in a dress. She proves time and time again that she can keep up with the men in the story. I would love to see more characters like Kate in YA.
And I think it’s worth admiring the writing and description in this book. Kate says repeatedly that she doesn’t understand poetry and its flowery language, so don’t expect poetic setting descriptions. But Bowman does an excellent job using Kate’s voice to capture the ruggedness and harshness of the land and environment. It’s hot out there and there’s little shade. Cacti and dry shrubs are everywhere and water is scarce. I could feel Kate’s pain as her skin burns and blisters under that blazing sun.
There were a few things that I didn’t like about this book. Number one of which is the lack of action. Some of my favorite scenes were when Kate and Waylan Rose were only a few feet from each other. The poker scene is amazing! My palms sweated the entire time. And I wanted more scenes like this. Rose didn’t have to make an appearance every few pages, but I wanted the threat of Rose to always be in the back of Kate’s mind. I wanted her to look at every shadow and see the outline of the man who killed her father.
I’m undecided on the ending. On the one hand, I liked the idea of Kate’s mom being involved in this whole scheme. It makes a lot of sense and it gave a really good answer to the question of how Waylan knew about Kate’s dad and his journal. But I wanted this information earlier in the story. When it was revealed at the end and then quickly resolved, I just felt meh about the whole thing. I didn’t have emotional response at all.
This is a good book! I won’t deny that at all. I’d love to read more of Bowman’s work just to see how her other characters compare to Kate. If you like Westerns, or even if you don’t, be sure to check this book out. I know you will be pleased.