This book, is the heart-breaking story of fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson and a quarter horse called, Lean on Pete.
Charley has never had a place to really call home, his mother left just after he was born, never to be seen again, and his dad keeps moving them from town to town, trying to find work.
It is one such move that lands them in Portland, Oregon, at the start of one summer, his dad starts the day with a beer for breakfast before leaving for work, often not returning for a couple of days at a time. Leaving Charley to his own devices whist he works, drinks and spends time with his latest lady friend. Often leaving Charley short on food and money.
All Charley wants from life is stability, friends, play football, and to stay at one school for a while. A place to call home, really.
Denied this, Charley finds solace in his early morning runs. One day he passes by Portland Meadows, a run-down horse racing track. There he meets Del, an ageing trainer, who gives him a job, and Charley spends most mornings there, along with a couple of overnight trips to other tracks. (Overnight trips his father barely notices.)
Del, is not a kindly figure, in fact he’s a bit of a rude, drunken, washed-out cheat. But Charley bonds with one of Del’s horses, the titular Lean on Pete.
When something happens to his father, Charley steals Pete, and Del’s truck and trailer and sets out across the country in the hope of finding his aunt, who he has not seen for years, but who is the only other family he knows.
Along the way Charley meets both the best and the worst human-kind has to offer, but even when kindness is shown to him, Charley finds it hard to accept, and difficult to trust people. Your heart just aches for him
I maybe painting a picture of a horribly bleak read, but really it’s anything but, and that is down to Charley’s voice. Vlautin has managed to capture, a teenage voice just right. There’s a simplicity in the story telling (think of the “What I did on Holiday” stories you had to write at school), and the only times we really get to see what Charley is thinking or feeling is when he is talking to Pete.
And he’s a good, honest, and likeable lad, who, if the world would just deal him a decent hand, you know would just shine. The depth of character needed to survive like he does, deeply alone in the world, is at least clear to the reader – if not to Charley.
If they’re as good as this, I’ll be certainly searching more of Vlautin’s novels.
Disclaimer: This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.