Jules's Reviews > Another Kind of Cowboy

Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby
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Feb 17, 12

bookshelves: queer-themes, youngadult, family
Read in February, 2012

I've had very, very bad experiences with a lot of queer-themed YA lit, and with YA stories about young women with gay friends -- at least one group of characters, either the women or the gay males, end up as caricatures. So I was pretty cautious going into this book. I am pleased to say that I thoroughly underestimated it.

The characters, first of all, were lovely -- Juby manages to walk the fine line of over-the-top ~characters~ without ever completely going overboard into cardboard. Alex and Cleo, of course, are wonderfully flawed, likeable characters, but so is much of the rest of the cast: Grace, who's a flake but genuinely loves and does right by her family, and even (especially?) Alex's father, who's trying his best to deal with things he really doesn't want to deal with, and who, moreover, I'm actually rooting for.

And Cleo. Oh, Cleo. I can't lie, I adored Cleo. I was deeply concerned, because she's a character who, in the wrong author's hands, could've been absolutely awful and flat-out offensive. Again, I vastly underestimated Juby. Cleo's a rare "poor little rich girl" who manages to be genuinely endearing -- who has an odd little sense of humor that shines when she's confident enough to let it do so, and who genuinely cares for other people but doesn't have any idea how to show that concern in any constructive way, and who learns lessons without Learning Lessons. Relatedly, another example of "things that nine times out of ten don't work for me but that Juby managed to pull off here": the flashback. We know, roughly, the backstory of how Cleo ended up at Stoneleigh, but when we finally get the flashback to Cleo and her father, his reaction to the incident that, for her, started it all, it actually works. More than works, it's downright heartbreaking: we know already that this desperate loneliness and sense of worthlessness was under the surface of her relationship with her parents; Juby has done the work to build that already. But to see how it was made explicit in the flashback is an absolute punch in the gut. That, I think, is what's key, here: this flashback augments, rather than replacing, the work Juby's done with Cleo.

On a more cheerful note! There's a lovely dry humor to ANOTHER KIND OF COWBOY -- a humor that I really don't know that I'd have gotten at sixteen or seventeen, but that, ten years later, I absolutely love. It's almost Meg Cabot-ish (and reading the acknowledgments section, Juby got a fair bit of input from Cabot), and fills the PRINCESS DIARIES-shaped hole in my heart the way not even other Meg Cabot books have managed, barreling in and being not just a decent methadone, but a lovely little gem in its own right.

That said, what happened to Detroit??? DON'T LEAVE ME HANGING, JUBY, NOW I'M ALL WORRIED. I mean, no, obvs, as Alex says, he's not going to be sold for dog food, but he's SAD, he misses Alex and Turnip and saaaaaaad. :( Also I was kind of irritated by Alex's athletic younger sisters declaring that they were gay, as well, because OBVIOUSLY athletic girls who like martial arts are lesbians (says the gay girl with a black belt in tae kwon do), and had in fact been hoping that Cleo would realize that she was gay herself, but oh well. These were tiny little missteps in the wrapping up of a thoroughly enjoyable book, and this was actually one of the few books where I got it out of the library and promptly headed to Amazon to buy a copy, because I knew I'd want to read it again. There are only a very few books that have ever managed that, so well done, Juby, well done.
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