Sunday, February 7, 2010

HOMESTRETCH by Paul Volponi

After losing his mother in a tragic accident, Gaston Giambanco Jr., known as Gas, decides that best thing he can do is leave his drunken, abusive father and head off on his own.  He hops on the back of a chicken truck with a bunch of illegal Mexican workers and takes his chances as he heads north.

Growing up in Texas, Gas has been surrounded by illegal workers everyone calls beaners.  That didn't seem to matter until his mother was killed in a car accident that involved an illegal behind the wheel.  Now Gas harbors hatred toward them that he can barely hold in check.  When he finds himself stuck in the back of a smelly truck with three brothers headed north, he can't believe his rotten luck.

Gas and the Mexican brothers are dropped off in the dead of night at a race track in Arkansas.  Maybe he has had just a bit of good luck.  His father worked at a race track handling horses, and his mother loved to ride and attempted to pass her interest in horses on to Gas. 

The work is dirty and grueling, especially since Gas is at the bottom of the pecking order of the race track.  He walks the horses after their workouts and does whatever his boss commands.  Much to his surprise he is given the chance to ride as a jockey.  Unfortunately, his mount is a horse known for his viciousness and the ride leads to some painful and disappointing performances.

Despite the taunts and even threats from other jockeys, Gas is bound and determined to prove himself.  As he pushes to earn himself a name on the race track, he learns other valuable lessons about friendship and family bonds.

Author Paul Volponi heads into different territory with HOMESTRETCH.  His usual subjects involve inner-city youth and gritty relationships involving gangs and the city.  Even though the setting is different in this new novel, he still presents life at its toughest as young Gas deals with the anger of losing his mother, the additional loss of an uncaring father, and the prejudice he feels toward a minority group he thinks he should hate forever.

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