Vengeance Road

336p. ebook available. HMH. Sept. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544466388.
Gr 8 Up—After finding her father hanging dead from a tree and her home on fire, Kate sets out, disguised as a boy, to pursue the Rose Riders, the ruthless band of murderers and thieves who killed him. A nod to Charles Portis's True Grit (S. & S, 1968), this YA Western portrays the moral ambiguities that arise in the single-minded pursuit of revenge. Bowman's Gold Rush Arizona resembles nothing so much as a postapocalyptic Zombie-infested wasteland: Children are burned alive in coaches, whores and whisky abound, and Kate shoots good and bad men alike when necessity demands. The protagonist narrates her story in the same dialect as she speaks, a rough, pared-down chronicle of a world uncivilized. She distrusts even her few companions, Jesse and Will Colton, a pair of brothers in search of gold, and Liluye, an Apache girl who reluctantly agrees to guide them through the mountains. A series of tests along the way blur moral lines beyond recognition, especially as Kate begins to develop feelings for Jesse. Readers who won't flinch from a vivid portrait of a lawless world may appreciate her ruminations on the horrors she encounters and the choices she has made. By confronting such realities head-on, the book demands the same stoicism from its readers as the heroine herself possesses.
VERDICT Teens sick of books that coddle them will enjoy sinking their teeth into Bowman's latest, a work for readers looking to graduate from L.A. Meyer's "Bloody Jack" series (HMH).

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