Jean's Reviews > Lean On Pete

Lean On Pete by Willy Vlautin
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really liked it

The point-of-view character is Charley Thompson, 15 years old. He is the loneliest, most disadvantaged, bravest, most innocent, ingenious, and eternally hopeful survivor I've come across in literature in a long time. He has something in common with the "Noble Savage" and yet he is not wild. He is amazingly civilized (except for table manners) for all the neglect and disinterest he has suffered. He lived with his dad after his mom--someone named Nancy-- abandoned him as a baby. The relationship between Charley and his dad was precisely drawn--the dad loved his son but was driven by his addictions. (He could cook though, when so inclined.) At his dad's whims, Charley has moved from place to place, sometimes attending school, and knowing only one relative--an aunt somewhere, sometime ago in Wyoming. Arriving in Portland, Charley is left to his own pursuits, is often hungry, without money, always lonely. Running helps him cope. He meets a shifty horse owner at the Portland Meadows racetrack and takes a job, meets a horse--Lean on Pete-- who eventually becomes Charley's substitute family. Charley witnesses a brutal attack on his dad, and after the dad dies, Charley is homeless and moves in to a tack room at the racetrack, spends happy moments confiding in Pete.

Charley's goals are to find a loving family home, go to school, and play football. The more desperate Charley's living situation becomes, the more chances he is willing to take. He frees Pete from his similarly disadvantaged life, and they go on the road in search of a better life for both. There is a touching scene over halfway through the book where Charley spills out his heartfelt wishes for a better life to Pete. A tragic scene unfolds soon after, but in the end, Charley's hopes are coming true.

The book ends in the middle of a happy conversation between Charley and his aunt, and I wished for a bit more resolution about some of the major events that occurred in Portland. I began to grow tired of the endless listing of the foods Charley managed to buy, beg, or steal, although I know that being constantly hungry is one of the hallmarks of a 15-year old boy. This was emphasized, and perhaps necessarily so, as Charley recounted his tale. I also thought that there was too much of aimless wandering and cruel incidents toward the end of the book; almost like the author didn't want to end the story too quickly. But he could have ended it sooner in my opinion. One less attack, one less hunger situation, would have been fine.

I admired the writer's precision and the voice he adopted for teen age Charley; it seemed just right, and I could picture this boy. Other characters were also cleanly drawn: Charley's dad, the shifty horse owner Del. Others who appeared briefly were easy to picture; most of them were people you'd fear to find in a dark alley or in a car stopping along the roadway. Most of the women were unattractive and desperate but quite humanly possible. I appreciated that cruelty to horses by the race track crowd was hinted at but not graphically shown. The innuendos and mention of 'buzzers,' mysterious pills, and strange treatments noticed by Charley, and odd behaviors of the horses were enough to indicate the suffering these animals endured.
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Reading Progress

July 8, 2013 – Started Reading
July 8, 2013 – Shelved
July 15, 2013 – Finished Reading

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drowningmermaid I had the chance to hear Willy V. speak about this book, and I have to say-- while I'm actually not in love with his writing style, I love his ideas and hearing him talk is what makes me like his books. He's so down-to-earth and entirely likable.

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