Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Polo Cowboy by G. Neri, Illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson

Polo Cowboy by G. Neri, Illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson  
Format:  ARC-Paperback
Publisher:  Candlewick Press

Number of Pages:  288
October 12th, 2021 
Source:  Raquel Stecher from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line:  "Mama is fuming."

Cole had planned to return to Detroit with his mother at the end of the summer, but Philly has turned out feeling more like a home, everything that is important to him is here.  How could he leave his beloved horse, Boo behind?  Although it goes against the deal they struck, Cole's mom eventually agrees to let him stay with his dad, Harp.  Now Harp has his own plans for Cole, which begin with him pulling his own weight around the Ritz, the makeshift barn they constructed.  Cole is expected to attend school and is surprised when Harp unexpectedly takes him to his new job as a stable hand for the George Washington Military Academy's polo team, a school of mainly white, rich, arrogant males.  Cole is disappointed that he won't be able to spend time with his cousin, Smush, but Harp says it's better for him to stay clear of Smush because he will only get him into trouble or hurt.  Shortly after starting his job, Cole runs into Ruthie, the girl he met practicing polo in the police corral near his home, and is surprised to learn that Ruthie is the teams first girl and person of color polo player at the academy.  Ruthie see's the way Cole is able to manage the horses, that he has potential for polo and she likes the way he doesn't shy away from her facial vitiligo, a skin condition that causes areas of her skin to loose their color, leaving patchy areas on her face.  Ruthie begins to teach Cole the ins and outs of polo, which eventually sparks an interest in playing the sport and possibly attending the academy himself.  However, Cole has many obstacles to overcome, including Ruthie's teammates who are determined to keep him from joining the team.    

Polo Cowboy is the sequel to Ghetto Cowboy, which was adapted into the film Concrete Cowboy in 2020 and centered around Cole coming to Philly to live with his dad after some trouble at school, and was also inspired by the urban cowboys of Fletcher Street in North Philadelphia.    Although I haven't read the first book, it's not necessary, but I'd highly encourage you to check out Ghetto Cowboy, I know I will be.  According to the authors acknowledgements,  Neri was inspired to write Polo Cowboy because of a young boy's story idea to write about Fairmount Park's African American polo team.   

Polo Cowboy was such a wonderful story, everything from the setting, characters, and plot was just perfection.  I know nothing about polo and found myself getting caught up in all the details about how to ride the horse, what the hazards are and how to connect with the ball while holding a long mallet and riding a horse.  I do think my favorite parts were Cole's cowboy version of polo that he played with the neighborhood kids.  I instantly enjoyed Ruthie and her self assuredness, wanting Cole to look her in the eyes and not just her face, to be "seen" by him.  I so enjoyed watching their relationship develop.  I also really liked how Harp's relationship with Cole changed from forcing him to fend for himself at home and the academy, to a caring, involved, loving, proud father.  Such touching moments.   I love how Neri uses the words and phrasing of the urban city and how the dialogue between the characters felt natural, authentic conversations between two friends.   Most of all, I enjoyed the black and white illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson, although my review copy didn't have the final illustrations, what I saw so beautifully matched the story.  

**A huge thank you to Raquel Stecher from Candlewick Press for my review copy.**

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