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Wide Open

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Based on a remarkable true story-
A wilderness of grass
A magnificent secret
A stunning tragedy
A lifelong romance in its earliest days

This is the epic story of Abilene, Kansas, at a time when the cowboy is king, and good and evil are so evenly matched that no one knows which will triumph.

Abilene, 1871. Fifteen-year-old Will Merritt is fiercely protective of the cattle trade that made his father’s fortune. Idolizing the cowboys who flood the streets each summer, Will and his friends are drawn to Abilene’s exotic Texastown district—a powderkeg of saloons and brothels so notorious that the mayor has hired the West’s most famous gunman, Wild Bill Hickok, to police its streets. Yet even with Hickok as marshal, Abilene boils with deep divisions.

The townsfolk resent the immigrant settlers whose new farms are slicing up the rangeland. And no one is more intolerant than Will’s best friend, Jasper, who delights in tormenting any farmer he encounters. But Will finds himself torn when he meets the beautiful and beguiling Anna, whose dignity and determination test his deepest beliefs.

With the scaffolding of his life beginning to wobble, Will realizes that his flamboyant father, J.T. Merritt, has a secret, something hidden far out in the remote prairie. When J.T. makes his stunning secret public, everything Abilene believes about its future is challenged, and the Merritts become outcasts.

And all the while, Will and the town are rushing toward an extraordinary tragedy involving Marshal Hickok. An event that will seal Will and Anna in a lifelong romance.

- Winner of the Western Writers Of America 2013 Spur Award

- Winner of the Western Fictioneers 2013 Peacemaker Award for Best Western First Novel

- Winner of the 2012 Forward National Literature Award for historical fiction.

- Winner of the 2013 Kansas Notable Book Award from the Center for the Book/State Library of Kansas

384 pages, Paperback

First published June 5, 2012

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About the author

Larry Bjornson

3 books44 followers
I graduated from the University of California with degrees in history and political science. My family has owned a farm in North Dakota for three generations.

My grandfather met and married my grandmother in Cody, Wyoming, a town founded by Buffalo Bill Cody. On one occasion, grandfather, who was a member of the town’s band, played a violin solo for Buffalo Bill. And, of course, Buffalo Bill was a close friend of Wild Bill Hickok, a prominent character in my current novel, WIDE OPEN.

The most important factor in forming my impulse to write was my parents’ love of reading and history. In recent years, I wrote a number of self published books that were a valuable training ground for the eventual acceptance of WIDE OPEN by Penguin/Berkley.

WIDE OPEN is historical fiction set in 1871 Abilene, Kansas. The story is based on the actual events of the legendary 1871 cattle season in Abilene, the first of the great prairie cowtowns.

A tiny exotic dot of roaring humanity on the vast vacancy of the wilderness prairie, Abilene is a place in which good and evil are so evenly matched that no one knows which will triumph. In its Texastown district, recently hired marshal, James Butler Hickok, the West’s most famous gunman, struggles to control streets teeming with thousands of hostile cowboys. Violence seems a certainty, but no one expects the tragedy that ultimately unfolds. It is the story of a magnificent secret, a stunning tragedy, and the earliest days of a romance that will last 73 years.

It's a bit early for reviews, but I do have a few. Here's one--

"Countless novels have been written about Wild Bill Hickok and the rough cattle town of Abilene, Kansas, of the 1870s. Larry Bjornson, however, makes the story fresh, unique, and moving. WIDE OPEN is a delight, a literate story with a wonderful cast of characters, boundless energy, and a perfect sense of place and time."
-- Johnny D. Boggs, Spur Award-winning author of EAST OF THE BORDER and NORTHFIELD

WIDE OPEN has a fairly extravagant web site at http://www.wideopennovel.com. Lots of history of the era, old photos, interesting graphics, and info on the novel.

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5 stars
106 (39%)
4 stars
98 (36%)
3 stars
48 (17%)
2 stars
12 (4%)
1 star
4 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews
Profile Image for Dianna.
554 reviews
September 8, 2012
This is not your ordinary cowboy book. Based on actual events, this story takes place in Abilene, Kansas in the 1870's about a boy's, Will Merritt, coming of age. With Wild Bill Hickok as marshal the is town divided. One side cowboys trying to sell and ship their steer and settlers trying to start a new life farming the flat plains of rich soil. Through events Will has no control over, he learns life's hard lessons.

This book is fun, entertaining, and so well written I couldn't put it down. I would recommend this one!!!

Note: I won this book in a First-Reads give-away. Thank You Goodreads!!! I thoroughly enjoyed it!
2 reviews
July 4, 2012
“Wide Open”, Larry Bjornson's first novel, is a great read. I blew through it in two days. Engaging and humorous. Eerily transporting descriptions interspersed with fast-paced action. A coming-of-age story with conflict and resolution, loss and gain, love and tragedy.

Will Merritt's father helped develop Abilene, Kansas as the premier town where Texas cattle are exchanged for eastern money. But in the summer of 1871, Merritt senior harbored a secret that would change the city and maybe destroy it. This cattle season has the town physically divided in two parts with Will's friends doing their best to start a turf war. Mother and father are separately holding secret meetings. The town is in such trouble that they hire “Wild Bill” Hickok as sheriff.

Abilene grew up with WIll and in 1871 it changed as he did. His story is allegory for the town, indeed, for the whole of the Great Plains. Will discovers that honor trumps loyalty, the frailty of heros and the value of hard work. Part subtle morality play, part slam-bang adventure, part enduring romance, “Wide Open” is a story to savor. Bjornson is destined to be a great author of American historical fiction.
Profile Image for Blaine DeSantis.
903 reviews113 followers
October 31, 2012
Absolutely loved this book. Fine first effort by the author. Love how he was able to give us the developmental history of Abilene, KS and fills it with highly believable dialogue and plot line.
Profile Image for Yvette Hileman.
1 review1 follower
January 5, 2013
I couldn't put this book down! I loved it! Great descriptions, wonderful character development, and non stop action kept me reading late into the night. <3
July 4, 2012
"Wide Open" delivers every element I want in a book: good writing, realistic characters, and a great story. And as a bonus, the book also supplies a good dose of page-turning suspense, historical information about a pivotal time in the settlement of the American West, and most importantly, it left me feeling richer as a person, richer to have known Will Merritt, his family, and all the other folks who live on the pages of Bjornson's novel. "Wide Open" takes an honored place in my bookshelf as one of those treasures I will return to over and over, for the sheer pleasure of experiencing that richness again.

Author Larry Bjornson draws the reader in right away, with wonderful, well-crafted prose, and keeps us riveted until the last page, painting one cinematic scene after another, in luscious detail, transporting us to the time and place of the American frontier just after the Civil War, during one summer which historically couldn't possibly pack more punch, action-wise: this was the summer feared gunman Wild Bill Hickok was called into Abilene, Kansas to keep order, just as the interests and tempers of two clashing populations - the carousing, cattle-driving cowboys and the dirt-poor, hard-working settlers - were flaring into an unstoppable showdown.

Bjornson puts the reader right in the middle of the action with an extremely likeable fifteen-year-old narrator named Will Merritt, whose father becomes the agent of the turmoil that erupts in Abilene that summer. Will's life is turned upside-down as he finds himself torn between loyalties, facing not only danger and loss but also his own conscience.

Will gives us a wide-eyed, youthful window on all the action, and there is more action packed into this 380-page novel than I would have believed possible. There are cattle drives, barroom brawls, accidents, emergencies, stunts, and adventures, too many to count. Each one is drawn in sprawling cinematic detail, full of sights and sounds and smells of Old West life that put the reader right in the middle of things. There's the time the longhorn steer falls through the....well, I don't want to give anything away, let's just say there is one surprise after another, all woven into a meaningful whole by the thoughtful narration of young Will.

Possibly the most compelling reason for me to recommend the book is the quality of Bjornson's writing. His prose is so well-crafted that it bears reading slowly, so that one can savor the language. Bjornson's ability to evoke the sensory experience of being present at a scene is remarkable. His ability to make the reader feel like his characters are absolutely real people, through wonderfully observant external and internal dialogue, brings not only a caring for these characters, but also a recognition of the ways we share the same foibles, and we feel what they feel. The poignancy of situations encountered by Will are handled with such sensitivity by Bjornson that I was moved to tears many times.

Bjornson treats us to unexpected little moments of self-honesty and insight from his narrator that are rare in a novel. Will screws up sometimes, and he knows it, but we are happy to forgive him, because his humanity always shines through. Will's initial attraction to his first love, Anna, is fraught with conflicting emotions that Bjornson delights in sharing with us, and not without a considerable amount of humor. All the characters in "Wide Open" - whether cowboy, settler, or townie, whether young'n or adult - are complex and deeply human. Bjornson says in an interview, "Everyone in the book, even the best of them, at some point behaves badly. And even the worst are capable of honorable actions."

Bjornson knows how to use suspense and foreshadowing to great effect. From the first paragraph to the last, anticipation keeps us turning page after page. Bjornson gives the reader the satisfaction he is hoping for, as evidenced by this passage: "Certain now that he'd won the test of wills, Waring twisted a little further around in his saddle to grin smugly at his three companions. And that's when his eyes left Hickok." I don't need to tell you where this is going. Suffice it to say, Bjornson takes pleasure in giving the reader plenty of satisfying story-telling, with skillful, flowing prose.

"Wide Open" is traditional in style - unapologetically old-fashioned, and I want to call it "reader-friendly." There is no graphic violence, no cynicism, and not even any bad language that I can recall. In summary, it's a very satisfying read - wonderfully written, fun, emotionally satisfying, with sympathetic characters, a palpable sense of time and place, and cinematic action and lots of it. I can't wait for Bjornson's next offering.
640 reviews4 followers
June 24, 2012
I just finished reading this book, and had to write about it immediately. It is quite unfortunate that I came across this book as I was moving 2,000 miles across the country, because I ended up reading it in many short bits. This book I would normally have read in a day because it draws you into a different world.
So, after a few pages I was already hooked, thanks to the beautiful language Larry Bjornson uses to build his story. I was immediately drawn into this world over 100 years ago, and each time couldn't wait to get back to reading to see how the story unfolds.
My only previous experience of this part of American history comes from reading "Lonesome Dove", and whilst Lonesome Dove tells the story of cowboys, Texas and cattle drives, Wide Open draws a picture of their destination, the towns in the north where the cattle is sold.
At the same time the story evolves, and describes an period of change (at least for this town), from the wild west and cattle to the era of settlers and farming. Reading about this development was fascinating.
And as the town changes, so does Will, the teenage main character of the book, who manages to be part of all the main events of his town, Abilene, Kansas. In this respect, this is a coming of age story, and the author does a great job of portraying his life and character, and showing how events shape the way he thinks and feels. But this is only part of the story of the book, running alongside the story of the town.
Larry Bjornson really brought this era to life for me, I enjoyed his use of language, and at the end the book feels well-rounded and complete. I recommend this book to anyone interested in this era or the history of the US in general. This book won't let you down.
Profile Image for Tonya.
196 reviews22 followers
February 17, 2013
I read the book blurb awhile back and wanted to read this book badly, I even entered the Goodreads giveaway, twice. I didn't win it so I bought it. I am disappointed.

I was promised, I thought, an epic tale of cattle ranchers vs. sod busters. A young man caught between the lives of rough and rowdy cowpunchers and the hard working, dusty farmers. A man who's family made a fortune off one way of life but harbored a secret.
What I got was a tale of a young boy seeing this tale told from a distance and it felt as washed out as a prairie wife's 5 year old best dress.

I don't want you to get me wrong it was a decent read, engaging even at times but I felt it was lacking. Will the main character is supposed to be 15 years old but he was written as if he was 10 on the high side. He was giddy to get money for candy, he ran with some kids that were kids of saloon owners and they all acted as if they were naive, sheltered children. No swearing, no working at the family businesses, no drinking, no hanging with the cowboys, no tales or plans to get a look or time with the 'fancy ladies'. It all just rang false for the era this was set in and the age of the characters.

A book that could have brought to life the actual struggles of a time and place, that promised us an epic tale of secrets, change and violence boils down to a coming of age story that had little of the things promised. Wild Bill Hickok's character was written as the voice of reason and sage advice but even his character was flat and unfulfilled for the reader.

All in all an ok read but it's more an easy read and should have been marketed for the young adult market.
Profile Image for Alexandra.
597 reviews45 followers
September 25, 2012
I won this book in a giveaway and I am so happy that I did. I loved this book and I was sad it had to end. It was hard to put down. The book has action, adventure, romance, and a little mystery, making it a very good read. It has chapters that are on the shorter side, which i really like (makes it easier when you have to stop reading often). The book is also very well-written. The author manages to describe sights, smells, etc. in a way that makes you feel like you're there. I haven't felt that while reading a book in a while. The author also managed to make cattle herding exciting. I didn't think cattle crossing a river could be that exciting. I found myself wishing I lived in Abilene at that time. I also liked the portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok. He wasn't the main character either, which made him a better character. And reading this book actually made me want to do some more research about him.

I have to admit that I was skeptical about this book at first because it follows Will, a boy in his teens. So I thought it would be more juvenile. But it wasn't at all.
Profile Image for June.
6 reviews
July 12, 2012
I won "Wide Open" by Larry Bjornson in a 'First-Reads' giveaway.

I really enjoyed this book. I like reading western romance novels which is what attracted me to this book in the first place. The author really did his research and made you feel like you were there in that time and place. You can really understand about the hardships and struggles of the farmers that settled on the prairie. They were looked down upon and treated harshly. The townspeople showed such intolerance for the farmers.

I felt for the characters in the story. Will is a teenager who is torn between doing what his friends expect from him what he feels is the right thing to do. His mother and father dare to change the future of Abilene making Will an outcast among his friends.
Profile Image for Carol Smith.
111 reviews38 followers
January 13, 2013
Disclosure: Won as a First Reads GoodReads giveaway.

The author personally signed my copy and included a thoughtful, signed letter. I worried this might make it a tad difficult to write an honest review if I didn't care for the story, but those worries were quickly swept aside.

This is a superbly enjoyable coming of age tale that plunks you smack down in the middle of wild and crazy 1870's Abilene, Texas. Through the eyes of young Will, you'll be made an honorary deputy of Wild Bill Hickok, and you'll be right at Hickok's side as he strives to keep order in a town rife with conflicting interests.

Prior to this, the only thing I really knew - or could remember - about Wild Bill Hickok came from the series Deadwood (and that ain't much, since Hickock met his sad fate early on in that town). Thanks to the rich depiction of Wide Open, I now have a good sense of the man and the town, and a strong desire to learn more about both. I think that's a good hallmark of quality historical fiction.

It's a breezy read; most chapters end with an intriguing hook that urges you to keep on going. Just one more chapter! It is equally suitable as both an adult read and an advanced young adult read.
Profile Image for Caroline.
154 reviews15 followers
January 24, 2013
I won this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. It was okay - a decent story and an easy read. It wasn't great however.
Many of the characters were barely drawn so it was hard to picture them. The age of the main character also seemed confused. He was supposed to be 15 years old, but seemed much younger - getting excited to get candy for free etc. Maybe I am mistaken, but a 15 year old now wouldn't act this way, and I thought that a 15 year old boy on the frontier would have been treated much more like an adult.
The passage of time was also a little confusing. There didn't seem to be any description of passing time, especially near the start, and then suddenly there was a comment about how Wild Bill had been in town for weeks, when it read like it was the same day.
It was an interesting story though and I might recommend it to friends looking for an easy read.
Profile Image for Cindy.
1,462 reviews21 followers
September 13, 2012
This coming of age story takes place in Abilene, Kansas in 1871. Since it is the first Western Novel that i have read I really had no expectations and actually thought the storyline might be a little dull. Well, I was wrong! I was pleasantly surprised and got wrapped up in the story. Based on actual events this beautiful and epic story transported me back to the days of the wild, wild west with its unruly cowboys, settlers, saloons, brothels, and Marshall Wild Bill Hickok. Bjornson writes in such a descriptive and unique manner that I felt as if i were living amongst the settlers and ranchers in this vast wilderness prairie.

If you are looking to read a good Western Novel, but a little out of the ordinary, I would recommend Wide Open. 4.5 stars
1 review
July 5, 2012
I like reading about history - and I especially like to read about it in novel format (don't like dry texts). Wide Open not only enlightened me about a very important, probably not well known - yet critical, time in our history, but also entertained. The characters are well rounded and have depth. Based on real citizens and events, I felt like Bjornson did his homework, knew his subject well, and is a "pretty darn good writer" (as Will might say). The use of period vernacular added to the "you are there" experience which I found reminiscent of Mark Twain's Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Wide Open. It's easy to read and kept me engaged. I highly recommend it!
3 reviews
October 11, 2016
wide open was a book written in the first person. it tells the story of a young mans life living in cattleman town, Abilene. Will, his sister and mother first lived with their relatives, Wills aunt, uncle and cousin, who treated as lesser than what they were. they later lived with their dad and conflicts between the cattlemen and settlers occurred. Friendships were tested throughout the book when Will develops a liking towards certain group of people. Feuds breakout and loyalty is tested. Life in Abilene wasn't what people though it would be. After years of civil disputes, one side of the people is left with nothing. how this affects will and his family is displayed with a variety of events and situations. What will be left of Abilene?
Profile Image for Sharon Huether.
1,477 reviews10 followers
April 12, 2014
Wide Open...by Larry Bjornson.. Will came to Kansas with his parents after the Civil War. At that time Texas Longhorns were driven through Kansas on their way to market. All of those cowboys made the town a wild place south of the railroad tracks. Wills father had ideas of farming for Kansas especially Winter Wheat. After he persuaded the cattlemen to find another route for the cattle. He planted the Winter Wheat next to the railroad, for all to see. It showed all the skeptics it would grow and do did Kansas. Will became a very honorable young man, with the examples of his father and Bill Hickok as the sheriff while they had the cowboy population in town.
Profile Image for Paul.
770 reviews22 followers
April 23, 2013
OK, so take Huck & Tom, give em different names, and put em out in the Wide Open fields of the ol` West.
Sprinkle in an historic feud between ranchers and farmers... give the bad guys a little bit of good, and the good guys a little bit of bad.
And this is basically the book you get.

It's a pretty good yarn mixing fiction with a bit of history.
Re-telling parts (and adding some new made-up ones as well) of Wild Bill Hickok and Cho's story. Not to mention having the both of them act as Deux Ex Machina every third chapter or so.

Reads pretty much as A BOY'S LIFE on the PLAINS. A quick and pleasant read.

I liked it
Profile Image for Christin.
63 reviews
July 18, 2012

I won this book in a First-Reads give-away.
I enjoyed this book and I think that fans of the genre will really enjoy it. Larry Bjornson paints some of the scenes in the book so vividly that you feel as if you are riding on the back of a wild Texas bronco right along with Will.

That said, I felt that the character development in the novel left something to be desired. Many of the characters and/or their actions seemed to fall flat at times.

The book is a good read and as I stated before, regular readers of the genre will probably enjoy it.
3.5 stars
1 review
July 4, 2012

Not since Twilight series or Grisham's books have I picked up a book that I couldn't put down. Wide open is not a book I would normally pick up. But this delightful historically fact story of the old Wild Bill Hickok cattle driving days of 1871  seen through the eyes of a 15yr old was a page turner.  With all the excitement, adventure and trouble one can get into was absolutely fun and moving. Just plan entertainment and good reading. Just plan on the house going to pot and the delivery man at your door with dinner.
Profile Image for Janice.
37 reviews1 follower
July 18, 2012
Awesome book! It was SO descriptive that I felt as though I was right there with each and every page I read! I actually experienced the joy, fear, pain, hope and friendships. I am sorry the book had to come to an end!! I love the style of writing Larry Bjornson writes with. It was such an easy read book yet it was exciting and touching. I loved the main characters Will and Jasper, even though Jasper proved to be quite the little trouble maker. Thank you Larry for an AWESOME book!! I am SO LUCKY to have won this book from Goodreads giveaway and I was honored to read it.
Profile Image for Laura.
185 reviews8 followers
August 17, 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. I could picture it vividly..the descriptions, the emotions, the times were so well depicted. This was totally written from the perspective of the main character, who although I didn't instantly like, I did fall in love with. And the ending? Perfect.
I would highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in American historical novels.
Thank you Mr. Bjornson.
It was wonderful and has left me smiling! :)
Profile Image for Eboni.
2 reviews
September 18, 2017
I finish this book It was very intriguing and very descriptive. I felt like I was in the story. I love history novel's like this one. Thank you for this experience! I hope to read more of your books.
1 review
July 9, 2012
Wide Open is a wonderful classic Western with intrigue, suspense and a interesting historical perspective. This book is a great read. Larry Bjornson makes the story feel real!
Profile Image for Shelley Alongi.
Author 3 books13 followers
July 18, 2018
This is one of the best novels I have read in a long time lots of action. This seems a little wild Bill Hickok as emotional as Abilene Kansas nicely done the story was so full of action and almost impassable happenings that I found the apologue kind of disappointing though that was probably the point. The main character settled down and helped settle the heartland. If you like action and western will like this.
150 reviews
January 31, 2021
This was an amazing western. The author captured a interesting segment of Western US history with great accuracy and detail. I felt I began to know and truly understand the true characters in this litany. I reamended this to the library as a book to ensure they put in their young adult section because I think it would help youth fall in love wit history bringing it to life. I too would recommend that teachers of English literature or History have their students read this fine book!
Profile Image for Jennifer Barten.
326 reviews
April 23, 2020
In all reality this book probably only deserves four stars but because I'm from the Abilene area originally I have a soft spot for it.
Great story about the area that really draws you in and gives you an idea of what the area was like.
Highly recommend it!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews

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