This book is the story of a teenage boy called Charley, who lives at home with his father, who doesn’t provide for him well enough, so Charley is forced to steal from shops to get food (this is a recurring theme throughout the book); Charley ends up getting a job training racehorses, but eventually ends up trekking across the country with a lame horse called Lean on Pete, who will be sent to the slaughterhouse otherwise.
During the course of the book, Pete meets a variety of different characters, including the horse-trainer, Del (who seems alternatively unpleasant and almost like a father-figure), and other characters who he briefly makes friends with on his journey, looking for his Aunt’s house. The story paints a very gritty portrayal of Midwestern America, with many of the characters appearing very seedy and occasionally quite unpleasant. I really liked his relationship with the horse, who he feels that he can talk to about all his inner feelings.
Charley is a character who the reader will sympathise with straight away, and often this book is quite shocking, and very tear-jerking in places. I noticed that the story (narrated by Charley) is written in quite simple language, with a lot of very short sentences, which are presumably to indicate that he is poorly educated. Every time that he was forced to steal, I got anxious because of the possible consequences of his actions. The next bit contains spoilers.
[Spoiler (click to open)]
The story contains a number of unexpected plot twists; first off, Charley’s Dad is stabbed in their house, and later dies. The scene where Charley learns this happens is downplayed a lot, with a simple, “She told me he’d died” in the middle of a chapter.
Also, I wrongly thought the book would end up being all about Charley and his horse, but Lean on Pete is unexpectedly killed two thirds of the way into the book, in one of the most harrowing moments of all, and the rest of the book has him dealing with his loss, as well as suffering nightmares about both his father and his horse.
The story ends happily, with Charley finding his Aunt, but by this point his experiences have made him so insecure, that he fears he will make her stop loving him.
I was really pleased that I read this book, because I could not wait to see what happened next to Charley, and there were enough surprises (and shocks) to keep me guessing what would happen.
Next book: Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde