I recently listened to the middle-grade novel Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart on audio and was riveted by the fast-paced drama about a grieving but brave boy set in 1890’s Washington state.
Joseph is a young boy who has lost everyone he cared about. His mother and sister died of illness, so it was just him and his pa. Then his father died, too, in a terrible accident. Joseph was left to live with Mr. Grissom, a man who treated him like slave labor. When Mr. Grissom sells Joseph’s horse, Sarah, to a traveling horse trader, it’s the last straw. Joseph makes a break for it, taking the money from the sale of the horse and his pa’s gun (which Mr. Grissom had taken) and heading off on his own after the horse trader. Sarah is the only family Joseph has left, and he is determined to get her back.
In the first town he stops in, Joseph learns where the horse trader was headed and also meets a young Chinese boy who seems to be all alone, too. A shopkeeper explains that the boy came into town with some adults who all died of illness, leaving him on his own. Although the boy speaks no English – and Joseph certainly doesn’t speak any Chinese – Joseph manages to convey an invitation to him, and the boy joins him on his journey.
The two young boys encounter a lot of danger along the way – both animals and people, bad weather, Indians, and eventually, the horse trader they are following, who turns out to be unscrupulous. Despite the language barrier, a friendship gradually forms between the two very different boys, and they help each other through the challenging journey. Joseph’s quest to recover Sarah is single-minded, and he is determined not to fail.
I enjoyed this Old West adventure, set in a time and place that is not often covered in fiction. The historical details were interesting throughout, but this novel is also action-packed and full of drama. Joseph’s parents brought him up to be a kind and tolerant boy, unlike many of the people he encounters on the road, so readers see the kinds of prejudices that existed at that time (as now) against those deemed different and the respectful way that Joseph deals with others. This is a rousing adventure, but with plenty of heart, a story that is ultimately about family and friendship.