From School Library Journal
Grade 5–9—Pennsylvania coal country is the setting for this post-Civil War adventure in which an orphan witnesses a murder and runs for his life. For stable boy Phin Chase, being in the wrong place at the wrong time makes him a suspect, and his dilemma is compounded when he comes into possession of the killer's wallet. Now he knows Ned Plume is one of the "Sleepers," a secret society of Irishmen causing trouble over mining jobs, and townspeople are not certain who can be trusted. As Phin flees into the countryside, first by foot and then by train, someone is tracking him on a stallion, and the stranger seems to have a sixth sense about his whereabouts. The story moves at the same fast pace as the horse and unknown rider who chase Phin through farmland and forest. The boy's survival skills work to his advantage and he cleverly turns the tables on his pursuer, who is injured when he is felled. Dialogue and characterization are tops here, and the backstory about rural life following the war and about Irish miners, better known as Molly Maguires, is accurately woven into the novel with some explanation for their violent ways. The book may be tagged as a historical adventure but it has plenty of appeal for horse lovers as well.—Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY
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Set in Pennsylvania coal-mining country about 10 years after the Civil War, this exciting story is soaked in historical detail and psychological credibility. Phin, who has been spared life in the mines, finds himself in a different kind of danger when he witnesses the murder of a mine boss. Running from the scene and from the only home he knows, he is pursued by the murderer and also by a mysterious man called Fraser. Fraser is a mule trader, but Phin thinks he's somehow related to the mines or the law or both. Whatever the truth, Fraser uses his remarkable stallion to track Phin as the teen flees through the countryside. Haas writes gracefully and evocatively of boy, horse, and desperate men, and the topics she folds into her story--including labor disputes and terrorism--can easily be connected to contemporary political and social issues. A thrilling tale with many opportunities for discussion. Francisca GoldsmithCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved