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Gaston Giambanco, Jr., known as Gas by his family and friends is one of my favorite characters. Gas’ life before his dear mother was killed in a car accident was a happy one even though his dad held so many jobs because of his explosive temper and prejudice. Gas loved the memories of riding horses with his mom and dad at the stables where he worked. As a junior in high school, he was still the smallest in his class but when Gas was on a horses’ back, he didn’t feel the all consuming weight of being short. But life becomes more difficult when his mom dies and takes her love with her while his father’s drinking rages out of control because of his grief and anger at the illegal Mexican responsible for the accident. Gas now becomes the object of his father’s rage. Knowing his father will continue to drink and hit him, Gas takes money from his father and hits the road towards an unknown future. Accepting a ride on a flatbed truck, Gas is just another passenger stowing away with four other “beaners.” Gas has conflicting thoughts and feelings towards beaners because his father has always complained about illegal Mexicans taking his jobs. Arriving in Arkansas, Gas and the other Mexicans get jobs at the Pennington Racetrack. No one knows about Gas’s situation so he weaves lies and gets a job as a hot walker and his boss, Dag, continues Gas’ lies, giving his age as eighteen. But Gas quickly learns that Dag is downright dishonest and uses “milkshakes” on his horses to ensure their wins. When Gas meets Tammie, who rides and takes care of her grandfather’s horses, he is so conflicted about the beaners and Dag that he can’t think straight. When Dag promotes him to jockey, Gas has a washed up jockey, El Diablo, train him to ride. Gas begins to feel at home at the racetrack around the Mexicans, Tammie and her grandfather, but he needs to prove to himself and everyone else he can ride. He has enough heart to do it, but at what price to himself and his horses? Gas is a teen who aches to be part of a family but he also continues to suffer from his father’s lifelong nagging about Mexicans. But it is his mother’s kind heart and her belief in the goodness of others that Gas will need to succeed. Once again, Paul Volponi has written a book that is suspenseful and exciting. He has the power to draw you in and feel Gas’s tragedies and triumphs. Teen readers will totally enjoy this book about acceptance, abuse and the true meaning of family.

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