Saturday, April 30, 2011

Arlington Reads: Bull Rider by Suzanne Williams

This is a bonus! Looking through the posts, here's one more review from Kady which really will finish off our month of reads highlighting this years Arlington Reads theme, "The Soldier's Story: Serving Country and Community." If you'd like to see the rest of our posts on this topic, click here.
 This one is last, but DEFINITELY not least!

Bull Rider
by Suzanne Williams
So there's this book by Suzanne Williams. It's called Bull Rider and it's excellent. You should go read it now.

Not convinced? Okay, fine, I can tell you more about it. The thing is, I'm not sure if Bull Rider is exceptionally good, or if it's just really good and hits all of my sweet spots. Believable teenage boy protagonist who feels kind of like an outsider in his family? Check. Returning "war hero" who makes other examine their actions and beliefs? Check. Strong family bond with positive parent and grandparent role models? Check. Lots of action? Check. Strong, clear and concise writing with little to no fancy "oh look at me, I'm such a good writer" flourishes? Check. And y'all? There are rodeos. It's probably to be expected from a book called Bull Rider, but as a girl from the antebellum south (with zero experience of the reality of smelly, hot barns and loud animals) I think cowboys and rodeos are, like, the most romantic thing ever and I love love love reading about them.

You still want to hear more about the story?  Fine.

Cam O'Mara comes from a family of champion rodeo cowboys and bull riders. Both his brother, Ben, and his granddad are legends in their town of Salt Lick, Nevada. But Cam's a little different, he's a skateboarder. He even has a pact with his best friend Mike: They'll always be boarders, no matter what. But that pact was made in a simpler time, after Mike broke his arm and couldn't board for a few weeks. It's a little bit different now that Ben has been shot while serving as a solider in Iraq. Ben's home now, and at least he's alive, but he's paralyzed on the right side of his body, he's suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury and he's pretty much given up all hope. Then Cam gets it into his head that if he can become a bull rider too, Ben will be able to get up and walk again. So he sets out to ride a bull, and not just any bull, he sets out to ride Ugly, the meanest, most fierce bull anyone on the circuit has ever seen.  No one has ever ridden Ugly for the full 8 seconds and Cam is convinced that if he can ride Ugly, it'll be a sign that Ben will get better. 

We all know how making deals with the universe works out: Sometimes it happens, but more often it doesn't. And if it does work, it's not actually because of the deal, it's chance and luck and hard work. Which is exactly what it will take if Cam's going to conquer Ugly.

Like The Things a Brother Knows, Bull Rider takes a soldier's coming home story and tells it through the eyes of a younger sibling.  While there are many differences in the details of Boaz Katznelson and Ben O'Mara's stories, the overall similarity just serves to reinforce how war devastates everyone, from soldiers to their families and communities, regardless of background.

I didn't talk a lot about Boaz' underlying problems in my review of The Things a Brother Knows, but I wanted to take a minute to give y'all some more resources for learning about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). TBI is one of the most common injuries in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It occurs when the brain is rattled around inside the skull (often during the blast from an explosion) and small lesions on the brain form. It's particularly devastating because for many soldiers it leaves no outward sign of injury and soldiers who are still recovering are often sent back to active duty without proper medical attention. Interestingly enough, TBI is also a rising problem in high school sports, specifically football and hockey. To learn a little bit more about TBI in both soldiers and athletes, and to learn how you can help, check out the Betty Clooney Foundation website.

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