Kings of Colorado – Book Review

Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton

Not long ago, I received an e-mail that went something like this:

“Dear Valerie,
David E. Hilton’s debut novel KINGS OF COLORADO—now available in paperback (Simon & Schuster; January 3, 2012; $14.00)—is a powerful coming-of-age story set on a juvenile delinquent ranch in the Rockies….I would love to send you a copy of KINGS OF COLORADO to review, giveaway, or feature on Believing in Horses….” 

Since Simon & Schuster cared about my thoughts, I thought I would share them here as well.

In Kings of Colorado (Simon and Schuster, 2011) by David E. Hilton, Will Sheppard stabs, but does not kill, his father, and pays the price for the rest of his life. Sent to the Swope Ranch Boys’ Reformatory in Colorado across the country from his Chicago home, thirteen-year-old Will learns lessons one would hope a child protecting his mother from his abusive father would never have to learn. Two years at the brutal boys’ ranch toughens Will, but does not leave him devoid of emotions. His saving graces include friendships, a special horse he trains, and a kind nurse. Will endures one violent and tragic hardship after another, leaving the reader wondering if he can possibly survive.

The quote on the book’s cover compares it to The Outsiders, which I personally wished it hadn’t. While reading the book, I kept thinking “Wow – kids are reading this?” This tainted my initial thoughts on the book. When I finally came to grips with the fact that the book was intended for adults, not kids, I relaxed and read with interest. The story includes extreme violence and detailed descriptions of fights, beatings, and language appropriate for a boys’ prison. I was relieved that Hilton chose not to get too graphic in some situations, in which he could have. But even with the violence, I found myself unable to put the book down. I rooted for the characters, got to know them, and wanted to know what happened next. I especially liked Hilton’s writing style, rapid pace, and the subplots.

A former middle grade teacher, Hilton used his experience and captured the thoughts of that age group in his characters well. As his debut novel, I hope to see more in the future. Hilton’s characters, pacing, and style would also greatly appeal to a younger audience, but this particular book contained too much violence for me to recommend it to anyone other than adults. And I do recommend it for adults. I hope Hilton will write for the middle grade audience in the future so they, too, can hear his voice. Those who read Kings of Colorado, you will not easily forget it, or its impact. I realized this as I drove past the Maryland Sherriff’s Youth Ranch last week, became uneasy…and wondered what stories may exist beyond that gate.
Curious, I asked the Simon and Schuster marketing specialist who contacted me how she had come across me, to review the book. Her response: “I found your blog by doing a simple Google search of horse blogs.” Just when I thought I’d transitioned from a horse blog to a writing blog. J That’s okay – it reinforces to me that there is a niche for everyone.  Thoughts? 


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