"But the thing is, you never really know what's going to happen next. Because anything can happen. Good things, bad things. And scary, crazy things, when the world starts going all to pieces just when you least expect it." —The Fire Pony, pp. 90-91 Fire. It's the driving force behind everything about Roy's older brother, Joe Dilly, who has taken Roy on a clandestine trip across the U.S. to find a safe haven where the two brothers can find peace from the authorities that track them; peace that always eventually evaporates, but not before they have moved on to another new area of seeming safety. It's Joe Dilly's fire, really, that made it necessary to run in the first place, the result of his bouts of uncontrollable rage that burned his bridges behind him wherever they had traveled. Now, trekking across the country after snatching Roy without waiting to win legal claim to him, the brothers are forced to engage in a neverending game of cat and mouse. Things settle down for a while when Roy and Joe Dilly serendipitously find a good home, living on the sprawling Bar None Ranch. Relatively few signs of converging law authorities spoil the idea that this could possibly be a long-term home for the semi-fugitives; in fact, the intense fire within Joe Dilly seems to have noticeably ebbed in the comfort of the friendly ranch home, as his unique talent for calming the wildest of horses quickly finds him an important niche on the homey spread. A ranch can always use the abilities of a master horse whisperer, and after a while it looks as if Roy has also inherited the gift for equine control. Life on the Bar None Ranch is a sweet thing to behold; the writing absolutely teams with the scents of hard work and memorable times on the old frontier, the stories of ranch life practically dripping with the natural beauty of a simple existence lived communing with majestic horses. Sometimes the action is fierce and tense, while at other times the laid-back life of a modern cowboy is the stuff of dreams, enviable for the stark realism it contains just as much as for the romanticism of life on the open range. Fire never truly dies, though; it just springs up in another location if one of its flame should be extinguished. When Joy Dilly's fire of vengeance roars up anew, inflamed by a sudden new target for his fury, the harm done in a single night could undo the good of an entire summer. Roy finds himself trapped between the new life he's been living and the old one of fear, of sneaking down back roads with Joe Dilly to avoid the detection of the cops. Now, the choice to stay or run may no longer even belong to Roy, as Joe Dilly's flameout changes the scope of everything in the form most fitting himself: fire... Actually, Joe Dilly's anger is mostly a non-presence in The Fire Pony. Like all great writers, Rodman Philbrick allows the threat of an explosion to speak far more than the explosion itself ever could, maintaining the suspense of the situation for as long as it will last. We don't even find out very much about what caused Joe Dilly to have to swipe Roy and take him on the run in the first place; just a few basic details about the neglect of their two alcoholic parents and a few angry misdeeds committed by Joe Dilly, which led him to remove Roy from the foster home in which he had been residing and take to the open road together. It's a mixed bag of emotions from Roy's perspective, measuring loyalty to his brother against the kind of life that he hopes to lead but knows he never will, as long as they are together on the run. As always, Rodman Philbrick's use of convincing first-person voice is nothing less than flawless. Roy is a totally convincing character with whom empathizing is an easy task, whether in the joys of victory as he tries to lead his quarter horse, named Lady Luck, to victory at the races, or in the sadness that comes as he realizes the inevitability of Joe Dilly's ultimate demise because of his personal fire. The Fire Pony is a well-written contribution to literature for young readers, one that I would recommend on nearly any level.
Like A List of Books?
Support the site by buying me a book from my Amazon Wishlist! Or maybe just Like/Stumble us