COWBOYS AND RANCHERS. This might qualify as an unusual topic for me, but sometimes, I reread children’s literature and again am captured by the quality of writing. To truly know me as a reader of all things young, you must know that I read every Louis L’Amour western in my junior high library. I know they aren’t deep books and follow a definite plot pattern, but I loved them. Action, mystery, rescue, the setting sun, the lonely West, a misunderstood man.
In the same vein, Jack Schaefer creates a story that’s even more impactful. From his opening description, Schaefer crafts a deeper character than most for young adult fiction, perhaps because we witness his influence upon an entire family. Shane mysteriously arrives in the Wyoming valley alone on his horse, a character dressed with a “hint of men and manners.” I know, I know. It begins like a cliche. And yes, we soon find out that a few homesteaders are holding out against one greedy rancher. Again, quite predictable, though historically realistic. Yet, here is where the story veers because Schaefer shows us, rather than tells us, who Shane is as he meets and is hired by homesteader Joe Starrett. Shane carries a chill with him yet is careful of his dress. He’s not large yet he’s wiry and powerful. Within the first day of working for Joe, Shane’s presence alone dissuades the local peddler from cheating Joe. Young Bob shares, “You felt without knowing how that each teetering second could bring a burst of indescribable deadliness . . . a strange wildness.” Even with an aloof nature, Shane begins a friendship with Bob, sharing chores and sharing wisdom like “What a man knows isn’t important. It’s what he is that counts.”
But there are moments when the mystery of who Shane is overshadows his behavior. When he shows Bob how to hold and aim a pistol, a fierce moment of memory hits and Shane freezes, his face described as a gash. Bob has to say his name several times to break the hold of the past. Many times Schaefer describes how Bob recognizes there’s more to Shane, yet Bob, and yes the reader, never learn enough. The story unfolds, tensions rise, and the homesteaders must choose to fight the manipulative mob boss of a rancher. More than once, Bob must watch Shane fight to right a wrong. He sees, and we see, “the flowing brute beauty of line and power in action” as Shane overpowers the rancher’s men. By story’s end, we want more. Schaefer has furrowed our curiosity to a point where we love Shane as much as Bob and his family do, yet we all remain caught in the unknown of who he is and who he was.