Monday, April 28, 2014
Review Roundup: Outlaws in Training
By J.E.S. Hays
Queerteen Press, April 2013
$14.50 paperback, ISBN 1482698838
$6.99 Kindle, ASIN B00C9G64EO
$6.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781611529012
Two teens from disparate backgrounds band together in search of fame, fortune, and a place in the world. As they reinvent themselves along a trail to infamy (they hope), they encounter Indians, gamblers, scam artists, trigger-happy stagecoach guards, cowpunchers, and legendary ghosts, often with chuckle-worthy results.
In the thirteen-story anthology Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid: Down the Owlhoot Trail, author J.E.S. Hays brings together updated versions of two previous shorts (“Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid: The Beginning” and “Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid: The Spanish Treasure”) with eleven new tales presenting the further misadventures of two boys who, through their determination to leave a larger-than-life legacy, become closer than brothers and surprisingly well-rounded young men.
Hays is an expert at the art of descriptive writing that doesn’t bore readers. Instead of dumping large chunks of scenery and character description folks tend to skim, Hays weaves the surroundings and minor characters into the stories through the boys’ eyes. The settings and adventures come alive, taking in readers as a third partner in the aspiring owlhoots’ successes and failures. Be prepared for an uncommon perspective on the Old West.
Though the stories are rife with humor and—in spots—pathos, perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the writing is Hays’s talent for fresh, well-turned phrases. Readers will laugh out loud in some places, hold their breath in others, and commiserate when capers take a turn for the worse. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid have nothing on Dev and Sweet.
As befits the subject and the intended young-adult audience, Hays dispenses with deep symbolism in favor of a more literal approach. Consequently, the book is a quick read, but not because of superficiality. The characters and plots are wholly three-dimensional, making the stories as enjoyable for grownups as for older teens…even those who usually don’t read westerns.
Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and an author. She received a review copy of Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid: Down the Owlhoot Trail from the author. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization. Links in the review are for convenience only; they do not produce affiliate revenue.