I got this book as an Advanced Reading Copy through Amazon Vine. I was excited to read it because it is written by a local MN author and I had heard good things about it from other Vine members. It was a clever little book but I had a lot of trouble getting into it.
Zeb gets sent off by his parents to apprentice with a tanner. Only thing is, Zeb meets up with a gentleman on his way to St. Louis named Chilly. Chilly accepts the money for Zeb’s tanner apprenticeship and agrees to take Zeb on as a apprentice riverboat gambler. Zeb, isn’t sure if he holds with the cheating aspect of what Chilly is up to and when he crosses paths with an old Indian chief and his daughter Zeb really starts to wonder if he’s made the right choice to serve as a gambling apprentice.
I really wanted to love this book. It is reminiscent of something written by Mark Twain. You can tell a lot of research went into getting the quirks of language and the surroundings as right as you can without living them. There is even a dictionary in the back of the book that will help you familiarize yourself with all slang of the times if you’re having trouble following.
Zeb is an interesting character that has enduring phobias of everything from chickens, to splinters, to the river. As an outsider looking in, you sometimes want to smack Zeb for his naivete but I suppose that is part of his charm. The Indian Chief and the Indian Princess are intriguing characters that really add some mystery to the story.
As I said, I was excited to read and love this book. I had a lot of trouble starting it out though. Although Zeb and Chilly are interesting characters the story didn’t hold a lot of suspense for me; it didn’t really pull me through. I also did not find any of the characters to be especially likable; I had a lot of trouble caring about where the story was going. I really had to push myself to get through this book. Even when Zeb was facing the driest of consequences I wasn’t really all that engaged in the story.
All in all, it was an okay book. It’s a pretty common-type coming of age story set in the river-boat era of the Mississippi. Young boys would probably enjoy it, young girls would be disappointed that there isn’t a place for them in that era. The writing was good and you could tell the book was well researched. I wish though that more work had gone into writing a really engaging and detailed story. I’d recommend this book to young boys or fans of Mark Twain. Will I read more of Helgerson’s books? Probably not, the writing style and story line didn’t really mesmerize me. I can imagine though that a lot of people will really like this book given the rarity of young adult books written in the setting of this book and the solid coming of age lessons included in it.