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Homestretch Hardcover – September 22, 2009
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Growing up in Texas, Gas has been surrounded by illegal workers everyone calls beaners. That didn't seem to matter until his mother was killed in a car accident that involved an illegal behind the wheel. Now, Gas harbors hatred toward them that he can barely hold in check. When he finds himself stuck in the back of a smelly truck with three brothers headed north, he can't believe his rotten luck.
Gas and the Mexican brothers are dropped off in the dead of night at a race track in Arkansas. Maybe he has had just a bit of good luck. His father worked at a race track handling horses, and his mother loved to ride and attempted to pass her interest in horses on to Gas.
The work is dirty and grueling, especially since Gas is at the bottom of the pecking order at the track. He walks the horses after their workouts and does whatever his boss commands. Much to his surprise, he is given the chance to ride as a jockey. Unfortunately, his mount is a horse known for his viciousness and the ride leads to some painful and disappointing performances.
Despite the taunts and even threats from other jockeys, Gas is bound and determined to prove himself. As he pushes to earn himself a name on the race track, he learns other valuable lessons about friendship and family bonds.
Author Paul Volponi heads into different territory with HOMESTRETCH. His usual subjects involve inner-city youth and gritty relationships involving gangs and the city.Read more ›
This isn't to say that, although he is escaping his father, Gas hasn't picked up on his father's rampant racism. He has, although for the most part he keeps it to himself. Any outward sign that Gas is racist toward the illegals he winds up hitchhiking with is cut down to basic moodiness. The Mexican brothers he finds himself with in the back of a horse trailer probably chalk this up to teenage angst and collectively move on with their lives. Meanwhile, Gas rails to himself about "beaners" and abhores the notion of eating enchiladas and tacos while he mentally envisions his mother's car wreck. The horror!
The trailer drops off the boys at a fictional Arkansas racetrack named Pennington, near Hot Springs, where the very real Oaklawn Park resides. There, the Mexican boys are given jobs as grooms, and Gas is demoted to hotwalker when Dag, the "unscrupulous" trainer, discovers he has no idea what he's doing. Therefore the Mexicans are earning more than Gas, prompting another volley of internal racial angst. Eventually, Gas finds himself exercising the local crazy horse, Bad Boy Rising, and because he manages to hang on during the horse's careening around the track, Dag gets it into his head that Gas would make an excellent bug boy.
Gas is totally inexperienced, and should not be on a racehorse in any way, shape or form. Dag is very well aware of this, and intends to set himself up to win big as a result.Read more ›
"He started drinking a lot more after Mom died in a traffic accident. A sheriff's deputy blew a stop sign and hit her head-on, chasing some beaner who'd jumped behind the wheel of a stolen car because he didn't want to get deported back to stinking Mexico.
"'Just two types who'll work for less money than beaners -- dead folks, and live people with less than a...worth of pride,' Dad always told me. 'That's what keeps salaries here in southwest Texas so low. Those cockroaches will work for next to nothing. And if they ever got exterminated off the face of the earth, folks in these parts would have more, including us.'"
When Gaston (Gas) Giambanco Jr.'s horse-loving mother was still alive, and she overheard Gas telling mean jokes about Mexicans, she would remind him of how he felt being the target of jokes and name-calling directed at his small size: "'It wasn't a joke to you, because you knew it wasn't one to them,'" she would say.
But now Gas' mom is dead and he's reached the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. When his drunken, chronically out-of -work father finally beats up Gas one too many times and then passes out, Gas empties Dad's wallet, loads up a knapsack, and hits the road.
And wouldn't you know it? When Gas finagles a ride on a the back of a flatbed loaded high with cages of live chickens and climbs aboard, he discovers that he is "locked in with a bunch of boarder-jumping beaners." Among the passengers is a trio of young Mexican brothers who are headed for jobs at an Arkansas horse racetrack, and it turns out that a fourth worker is desperately needed. So it is that Gaston Giambanco Jr.Read more ›