I was a judge of the Best Novel category of the 2014 Peacemaker Awards. There were so many good ones, it’s tough to choose what’s “best.” All of you who have read “The Hardest Ride” will see it is a kind of coming of age story. And a good one.
Another one of the entries that pulled me in was Cheryl Pierson’s Kane’s Chance.
You’d never know it by the cover, but the narrator is Will Green, and he’s only 13 years old. While he tells a story of Jacobi Kane, who rescued him from the Apaches when Will was only 10, the part of the story that grabbed me was how you could see Will grow as he told Kane’s story. Here’s how he introduces the book:
My name is Will Green and I have to share the story of how I met Jacobi Kane or I'll bust from holding it in. Apache renegades murdered my family and took me prisoner when I was ten. I never believed I'd live to see another sunrise, but Kane appeared as if from nowhere and fought to save me. Never saw a man so determined before, but I did have to step in and help a bit.
I didn't know at the time that Kane kept a secret from me, one which might change my high opinion of him. Then he met Laura, and she helped both of us heal in different ways.
Later on, once we settled down on a place of our own, Kane led a band of lawmen in their mission to annihilate the renegades responsible for killing my folks – and Kane's first wife and children. Laura sent me along after them, just to be sure Kane stayed safe. It turned out to be good planning on her part.
Once I turned thirteen, my own doubts crept in as to whether I actually should be with the Kane family. Then my wealthy grandfather showed up from back East, determined to take me to Boston. Took some doing for me to learn the true meaning of family and just where I belonged.
In the end, my grandfather and I faced a fight for our lives and, once more, our survival relied on Jacobi Kane and me. Now, I've got a family fortune to deal with – one I never knew about or wanted – one someone else wants bad enough to kill me for.
But I've found my place in life, with Kane's help, and I don't plan on giving it up anytime soon...
Then the story jumps back to the night Will, captive of Red Feather and his band of warriors. And from there to the massacre of Will’s folks at their homestead. Will must endure things no 10-year-old should. Then Kane comes to pluck him out of Red Feather’s camp. For some reason, leaving Red Feather alive.
Then he finds out Jacobi Kane, the man who rescued him, watched while Red Feather’s band killed his folks.
"I know how you're feelin' right about now."
No, I thought. You don't know the very first thing about how I'm feelin'.
"You're stomach's twisted up in knots – and I know it ain't 'cause you're afraid. You're the strongest boy I think I ever clapped my eyes on. I saw the way Red Eagle treated you…and the things he did to your folks."
How would he know about any of that, unless he'd been trailing Red Eagle's band for several days? Had he come by the home place just afterward? A thought shot into my head like a jagged bolt of lightning that burned and wouldn't turn a-loose. Had he seen it happen? Been there in the shadows of the woods, watching, and not helping?
He turned around to look at me, and he could see the dark path my thoughts had taken by the look on his face. His eyes took on a sorrowful light. "Wasn't anything I coulda done, young 'un. Too many of 'em. All I could do was follow you, and wait my chance to jump Red Eagle. But tryin' to save your pa and ma – they were killed so quick I couldn't've got from where I was to them before he got 'em anyhow. Then, the girl came runnin' out – I sure wasn't expectin' that." He shook his head, almost as if he felt responsible for Lisbeth gettin' shot.
Cheryl Pierson knows what goes on inside a boy’s head. Don’t know why, unless she’s a mother of some son. At any rate, this story of a young man finding himself, finding courage, finding sympathy, finding companionship, is a rare story indeed. Cheryl gets it right.
Almost everything Will thinks he can trust breaks that trust. Except Kane, and sometimes he wonders about that. You see, Will’s dad was the son of a rich man. A man who owned a large ocean shipping company. A man of the sea. But Will’s dad didn’t want anything to do with the sea. He wanted a family and some good earth to till. That yearning got him killed.
Will finds out Kane is a half breed. But Kane teaches him the ways of self protection. Kane says the marshal is trustworthy. But he isn’t. In fact, few of the people in Will Green’s life are trustworthy. Not the marshal. Not the captain. And maybe not even Kane.
Nevertheless, he finds a home with Kane and Laura and a soon-to-be-born baby. It would seem all was well, until Will’s grandfather shows up on the scene. A crafty old man who’s out to find his heir. Will doesn’t want him to know, but is not apt at fooling folks. And he was afraid his grandfather was going to force him to go to Boston with him. Here’s what Kane said:
Jacobi reached out to lay a reassuring hand on my arm. "You've no reason to be afraid, son. He'll have to come through me to get to you. You're just going to have to reach down inside and hold on to your faith."
"Is that all?" I asked stiffly.
"No. Let go of your fear, Will." He said it real gentle, and I felt my eyes sting. It was a hard thing to accept, that Jacobi knew just how I felt. It could only mean one thing – that he had felt the same as me, at some point. And I didn't want to think on that.
Anger was my best defense against understanding what I didn't want to know. I wanted to shout for him to go to hell. I wasn't afraid of an old man, a Yankee who didn't know how to get along in this rough country we called home. But I didn't say it. I didn't speak a word, because I knew what Jacobi said was true.
I was scared down to my soul.
I’m not going to tell you what happens. But believe me, the tears will come and the goosebumps will run up and down your arms as you read this fine coming of age novel by Cheryl Pierson.
My own coming of age story takes place in Yuma Prison.