Review: Kings of Colorado- David E Hilton

Title: Kings of Colorado
Author: David E. Hilton 
Release Date: January, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 Hoots
Reviewer: Lydia

A heartfelt portrait of a bygone age. 

William Sheppard had never ventured beyond his Chicago neighborhood until, at thirteen, he was sent away to the Swope Ranch Boys’ Reformatory, hundreds of miles from home, for stabbing his abusive father in the chest with a pocketknife. Buried deep in the Colorado mountains, Swope is shrouded in legend and defined by one prevailing rumor: that the boys who go in never come out the same.

Despite the lack of fences or gates, the boundaries are clear: prisoners are days from civilization, there exists only one accessible road—except in the wintertime, when it’s buried under feet upon feet of snow, and anyone attempting escape will be shot down without hesitation in the shadow of the peaks. At 13,000 feet above sea level, the mountains aren’t forgiving, and neither are the guards.

With twenty-four months of hard time ahead of him, Will quickly learns to distinguish his allies from his enemies. He also learns about the high price of a childhood lost. At Swope, herds of mustangs are trucked in to be broken by a select group of inmates. Once the horses are gentled, they are sold to ranchers and landowners across the Southwest. Horses come and go, delinquent boys come and go. The boys break the horses, Swope Reformatory breaks the boys. Throughout this ordeal, Will discovers three others who bring him into their inner circle. They are life preservers in a sea of violence and corruption.

But if the boys are to withstand the ranch, they must first overcome tragedy and death—a feat that could haunt them for years to come. (Goodreads)
This story is told as a flashback of Will’s youth; the part of his history he has never confronted, although he’s now a maturing adult, Will feels he must write about what happened to him and the friends he made during his time at the Swope Ranch Boys Reformatory in Colorado. Will’s story is a gritty one, bull of viciousness and violence. Yet, it is also the story of young boys who survived an experience unlike any other.

Hilton portrays his characters in excitingly different and complete ways. There are no doubts about the protagonist adults who have their own agendas. Although there are few “jailers” who have empathy for the boys, their characters despite limited appearances, are clearly explained. The grittiness of this novel is almost daunting in its characters’ portrayals.

The horses play an interesting role as they mirror the young boys and their efforts and struggles to exist in the negative environment. The boys do not have the power of decision about the horses, yet they struggle to attain it, as they also struggle to maintain their own sense of existence. The ending of the story is not only confusing in its continued violence, but it is also riveting as the boys strive to maintain not only their sense of self, but also cope with the other boys they have know who are making decisions that will effect their existence.

This book is highly recommended, but not only as a contemporary novel. This is a book appropriate for mature young adults. 

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