From School Library Journal
Grade 6-10 -In 1860, Colton Wescott, 12, is determined to keep his Sacramento-bound family alive and heading west. His distraught white father abandons the family after accidentally shooting his son; the wagon master has ordered the mixed-race family to leave the wagon train; his freed-slave mother is sick from childbirth; and his two sisters cling to Colton in hopes of survival. When they finally arrive in Chinatown, 12 miles outside Carson City, NV, a sign for Pony Express riders captivates Colton, who lies about his age, passes for white, demonstrates his horse-handling skill, and is hired for the dangerous ride over the mountains. When he is injured in a fall, he loses his job but decides to take matters into his own hands. Eschewing the superintendent's orders and Pony Express protocol, he grabs the mail, rides his own temperamental horse, and heads for Sacramento, knowing he might be carrying news of two subversive plots "to blow up some forts and steal some ammunition" and to assassinate Presidential candidate Lincoln. Heroically, Colton delivers the mail, finds his mother's runaway sister, and gives her precious legal papers proving her freedom. Colton is determined, reflective, and courageous in his vivid, vernacular descriptions of moral dilemmas, treacherous trails, and exhaustion. Based on historical facts and footnotes, this fictional account offers an appealing, energetic, and provocative look at racial issues across America, the remarkable but short-lived scheme of Pony Express service, the fortitude of its riders, and the courage of one boy who stands up for family, himself, and his beliefs.-Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC
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*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. On a wagon train headed to California, Colton is left to care for his family after his father accidentally shoots him and then runs off in horror. His mixed race family (Pa was white; Ma is black) is harassed, ignored, and finally abandoned by their fellow travelers, but Colton still manages to lead his mother and siblings to the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas before Ma's illness stops them. Ma entrusts Colton with her sister's freedom papers and begs him to deliver them to Sacramento, their ultimate destination. To meet her request, Colton joins the Pony Express--a job that brings further hardship and danger as Colton braves the coming winter to carry the mail on its final leg into California. Set in 1860, with the pending Civil War as its backdrop, Wilson's novelsubtly exposes the dangers of being mixed race in a volatile society. Wilson masterfully creates a multidimensional character in Colton, who possesses both youthful impetuousness and the wisdom of a man who has seen too much sadness for his young years. Societal barriers, played out larger than life in Colton's heart and mind, are the ultimate strength of this story. Readers will absorb greater lessons as they become engrossed in the excitement, beauty, and terror of Colton's journey to California and manhood. Frances Bradburn
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