Book Excerpt – Polo Cowboy
by G. Neri, Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
Publication Date: Oct 12, 2021
List Price: $17.99
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Target Age Group: Middle Grade
Imprint: Candlewick Press
Publisher: Walker Books
Parent Company: Walker Books
Copyright © 2021 Walker Books/G. Neri No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher or author. The format of this excerpt has been modified for presentation here.
Mama is fuming. “Say that again.”
I swallow and take a deep breath. “I ain’t goin’ back to Detroit.”
Five minutes ago, we was celebrating. I almost beat Harper in our first horse race—even though I’m pretty sure he let me get that close. Mama’s here visiting, and we was being all family-like again, laughing and telling jokes at the Speedway in the middle of the biggest nature park in Philadelphia.
It was a great day. But then she asked me when I was gonna come back home again.
Ever since I came back to Philly to stay with my dad for the summer, I only felt one thing: This my home now. Where my horse, Boo, is. Where the fellas is. Where our stable, the Ritz-Carlton, is. The Ritz may have been just a run-down garage before, but to us, this barn is like the fanciest hotel in the neighborhood—the place to be and be seen—so that’s why we call it that. It’s my real home. Not Detroit, where Mama lives.
I didn’t wanna say that out loud, but she kept asking. Now I swear her eyes is gonna drill a hole through my head.
“You the one who brung me here in the first place,” I say to her stare.
It was only a year or so ago, so I know she remembers. Who forgets ditching their boy on the doorstep of a daddy he’s never met?
She sighs. “I thought we had a deal. Summers here, school year back in Detroit.”
Deal, schmeal. “I wanna go to school with my friends here, in Philly.” That’s not exactly true. Most my friends is cowboys or small kids who come to the stables to learn. So I confess the real reason: “Besides, Boo needs me.”
That don’t sit right with her. “Boo’s a horse,” she say. “I need you.”
“Then move back to Philly,” I say. “You gettin’ along with Harp now. Why can’t we be a family again? In Philly.”
I can tell that knocks her for a loop. “Life don’t work that way, Cole. I can’t just pick up and leave my life behind. I got a job, responsibilities. I can’t just go back to a relationship that’s been dead all these years. It’s not that easy.”
I don’t wanna hurt her feelings. But truth is, I am happier here, and she knows it.
We stand there for a long time, thinking what to say next. Boo is eating grass behind me. Harper, my dad (even though I don’t like to call him that), is on his horse, waiting for us to leave. I don’t want Mama to go, but standing here just makes it harder to say goodbye.
“What about your future?” she asks.
“What about it?”
She sighs. “World’s a tough place, Cole. Ain’t got no room for young black men. You gonna end up like your cousin Smush or make something of yourself ?”
I look over at Smush, who’s rolling dice on the basketball court. He’s a dropout and sometimes corner boy who always finding trouble, even when he’s helping out.
Then I look at Harp and the other horsemen getting ready to ride back to the neighborhood. “What’s wrong with bein’ a cowboy?”
She almost laughs. “Being a cowboy isn’t a job. Plus, it’ll suck up any money you do manage to make. Just ask your dad. Your only hope is to fi nd a way to college.”
College? “Why I gotta be thinkin’ about college? I’m only fourteen. What’s that gotta do with stayin’ here?”
She glances over at Harp. “I’m not so sure your dad is thinking about your future. He’s not even thinking about his own.”
I stare at the ground for the longest time, trying to find the words. I wanna tell her I love her, that this ain’t got nothing to do with the past.
Instead what comes out is “Maybe, but I still wanna stay in Philly.”
She stares at me like she trying to read my mind, like she trying to see if I really feel that way or if I’m just being a teenager.
Then she laughs, but not in a funny way. “You just like your daddy. Love that horse more than me.”
She turns to leave, and it feels like she just put a knife in my back. “Wait,” I say. She stops, shakes her head.
I grab her from behind. She sighs and pulls me into a bear hug till I can’t breathe. “I love you too,” she says.
Then she walks away before we both lose it.