From School Library Journal
Grade 4-7?Young orphaned Roy and his arsonist adult brother, Joe Dilly, are heading West, fleeing an earlier arson scene and looking for work on a horse ranch. At the Bar None, they find a place where they can avoid the law and earn their keep. Roy can also earn a pony, if he can break her. Lady is a beautiful, wild palomino that has already stolen his heart, but even if she lets him ride her, he worries that Joe Dilly's uncontrollable emotions and fascination with fire will destroy all of his hopes and force them to move on yet again. Philbrick discloses just the right amount of detail about Joe Dilly's fires to create concern for young Roy and draw readers into the story. Roy's first-person description blends smoothly into authentic dialogue with a Western accent. The characters are fully developed, showing both strengths and weaknesses. However, the "horse whisperer" effect Joe Dilly has on totally unmanageable horses is a bit far-fetched. Some of the horses' behaviors are equally unrealistic, as when Joe Dilly rides a crazy stallion bareback through the side of a burning barn. But the story on the whole has plenty of action and suspense and is a good choice for encouraging reluctant readers.?Christina Linz, Alachua County Library District, Gainesville, FL
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 5^-8. There's no doubt that trouble lies ahead; 11-year-old Roy warns readers on the first page that he's "still pretty worried about the bad stuff catching up." Readers will know it's just a matter of time before everything blows up, but in the meantime, they'll be pulled quickly into a satisfying story about a boy who finds peace for a time on a horse ranch. Roy idolizes his older half-brother, Joe, who rescued him from a foster home. Although Joe is a skilled blacksmith, his temper sometimes gets the best of him, and they have to move on. When Joe finds work at the Bar None Ranch, Roy hopes they will be able to stay for a while. Joe gets along well with the owner, who has taken a shine to Roy and has given him a pony to train. Philbrick offers lots of interesting details about ranch life and training and racing horses, but it's the tension that will hook readers till the dramatic conclusion. Although less emotionally wrenching than Philbrick's Freak the Mighty
(1993), this story may be more accessible for younger readers. Chris Sherman