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Bug Boy Hardcover – July 21, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Grade 6–8—In 1934, at the Saratoga Race Track, Jack finally gets his chance to be an apprentice jockey, or bug boy. Only 15 and on his own, he has to deal with a vicious thug who wants him to throw a race, a duplicitous girl "bookie," and his father's betrayal after he comes to Jack for help. He eventually triumphs over the adversities facing him as he also copes with the death of his favorite racehorse. This well-written, engaging story effectively captures the desperate times of the Depression and the hard-edged world of horse racing. Jack has a strong moral compass in contrast to the characters who are willing to sacrifice others to ensure their own well-being. Although he learns some bitter lessons, the teen still manages to follow his dream of working with racehorses.—Carol Schene, formerly at Taunton Public Schools, MA END
“This well-written, engaging story effectively captures the desperate times of the Depression and the hard-edged world of horse racing.” —School Library Journal
“Racing fans and history buffs alike will doubtless enjoy the ride.” —Booklist
“This is a book that's going to make teen boys fall in love with historical fiction without ever knowing what hit them.” —Goodreads.com
“Filled with riches and fraught with danger, Eric Luper's BUG BOY is an exhilarating ride.” —RichiesPicks.com
“First-rate novel.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Set in 1934 in Saratoga Springs, New York, at the Saratoga Race Track, Luper’s novel is as fast-paced and exciting as the races themselves.” —ALAN Online
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Top customer reviews
Jack "Shabby" Walsh says he has loved horse racing since "his diaper hit the saddle." He is now sixteen and has been gone from home for years. His father first set him up with a character named Tweed. From Tweed, Jack learned the ins and outs of the horse racing circuit, but he also learned how evil a human being can get.
When the story starts, Jack has a pretty good thing going with Mr. Hodge and Mr. Pelton. He does everything from working the horses along with trainer Mr. Hodge to mucking out the stalls. The job pays enough to allow him to send money home to his family and to keep him alive. He still dreams of working as a real jockey some day.
Jack's luck changes with the bad luck of a jockey named Showboat. A fatal accident in the starting gate opens up a spot for a new rider. Jack is now officially a bug boy; in other words, a jockey in training. His luck holds when he is able to place in the first two races of his career. Things look fantastic for a quick rise to the top.
Amidst the training and racing activities, Jack connects with Elizabeth. She is horse racing's first female bookie. Even though she is from a world far different than Jack's and she towers over him, she wants him with her constantly and insists on showing him the town with his newfound wealth. Along with her attention, Jack finds himself in the sights of a creep named Jasper who wants to use Jack's inside connections to fix a race.
BUG BOY may start out focusing on a quiet stable boy, but the action ramps up quickly and doesn't slack off as the horses and characters race to the end. Readers who enjoyed BIG SLICK will be equally impressed with Luper's new book, and it is sure to win him many new fans, as well.
Reviewed by: Sally Kruger, aka "Readingjunky"
Jack isn't what one might call a natural fit for the job. He's a tad too tall, a tad too heavy, and the ordeal of making weight is daunting, disgusting, and everything you'd expect it to be. The glitz and the glamour of 1930s Saratoga, however, is also what would make most people go through just about anything to be able to experience. He lands a girlfriend, a car, enough money to send home, but that dead monkey in his locker probably isn't a good sign, right?
No. No it is not.
I liked this one. The details were amazing, but Luper blends them into the story so that they don't feel like pointless trivia obtained to prove that there was some research going on here. Jack is a good, solid character, and I could never find myself wanting to throw something at him, which I find is my main reaction to most characters in most horse books. The only weaknesses, for me, were the great reveals in the end and the reactions to said great reveals that felt unbelievable or slightly forced. One reveal in particular felt like a moment where someone whips a sheet off the elephant in the room, and then having someone quickly cover it back up again. And most people never noticed the elephant, or the fact that it was uncovered, even briefly. Which made me question why there was an elephant to begin with.
I recommend this one, elephant or no.
Is it the 21st century misbehavior of the latest teen movie celeb or teen pop idol?
Nope. It's Jack Walsh, who is suddenly a very hot fifteen-year-old horse race jockey in Saratoga New York in 1934.
Jack was once a kid on a family farm in upstate New York. Unfortunately for Jack, his father sent him off to earn money for the family at the age of twelve with an abusive scoundrel named Tweed McGowan who was supposed to be teaching him about horses and racing. Fortunately for Jack, Tweed eventually "traded" him to Pelton Stables, big-time owners and trainers of thoroughbred race horses, for an old saddle and some horseshoes. Jack has been exercising horses and cleaning stalls for Pelton and, being a gifted rider, has caught the attention of his employers. When Pelton's star jockey breaks his neck in a starting gate accident at Saratoga, Jack is given his chance to race and takes full advantage of it.
Jack's fame provides him the opportunity to catch the fancy of and spend his off time with Elizabeth Reed, the rich and beautiful young daughter of a wealthy rival stable owner. Unbeknownst to just about everyone, Elizabeth Reed (I always wondered about the dame after whom my favorite Allman Brothers song was named.) is a bookie. In those days, race spectators would place bets with one of the bookmakers who were either down near the track or roaming through the stands. Being that women were not permitted to wager at the track, nor to serve as bookmakers, Elizabeth, assisted by another young woman, is discretely providing her services to a select female clientele. Not even her father is aware of Elizabeth's business.
BUG BOY takes place just months after the repeal of Prohibition. The U.S. is still mired deep in the Great Depression, and there are Hoovervilles sprouting up everywhere, but Jack, Elizabeth, and their teenage hangers-on are living huge between races. Of course, being a jockey, Jack has to maintain his weight in order to ride. The lavish dinners with Elizabeth mean that what goes down must come back up if the gravy train is going to keep on rolling. And you never know where and when you will run into one of the bad guys who is either demanding a piece of you or wanting you to fix a race.
Filled with riches and fraught with danger, Eric Luper's BUG BOY is an exhilarating ride. Grab on tight to a handful of mane and lean in close for a story that moves at a pace that is guaranteed to leave you breathless.