Summary: A terrible car accident leaves Shane without a mother from the age of nine, and in the hands of a father who drinks to forget. As bull rider and rodeo clown, Shane’s father has them following the rodeos across the Prairies in the United States and Canada, but when Shane’s grandfather dies and leaves him a piece of land in Alberta, Shane and his father finally have a place to put down roots. Untangling the feelings and pain of the past is going to take longer than the four years that have already passed; unfortunately no healing can begin until someone starts talking. After a night of drinking on the part of Shane’s father, a confrontation between father and son ignites the anger between them, and has lasting consequences for their relationship.
Number of Pages: 138
Age Range: 13-14
Review: Cowboys Don’t Cry by Marilyn Halvorson is an emotionally-charged story about the dynamic between a father and son after the death of the woman who brought light and life to their world.
Raised to be a stoic cowboy, Shane has learned from his mother that showing emotion and crying is something everyone needs to do. But Shane’s father is someone who drowns his tears in alcohol, which forces Shane to become the parent as they travel from rodeo to rodeo and his father goes from being a bull riding champion to a rodeo clown. Settling down on Shane’s grandfather’s land is new for both of them, except while living there provides stability for Shane, being tied down seems to agitate his father.
I loved Shane’s voice in the novel. Halvorson’s writing style is smooth and conversational, yet Shane has real depth. The story is a genuine exploration of the expression of grief. Jeff’s comparison to the Morgan men to a horse who gets tangled up in wire and still fights to get out is apt and powerful.
And though reading about the struggles Shane and his father had in connecting was so painful at times, I thought Halvorson did an excellent job in her ending. I believed it, and was satisfied things were going to move in a better direction for Shane. I also loved that the Sutherlands were able to provide something Shane had been missing: love without resentment and actual parenting.
I also like the theme of land being both a grounding force, and a place to grow. It isn’t till Shane gains the stability of living in a permanent place that he is able to make friends and find support, something both he and his father have needed since his mother’s death.
To top it all off, I quite enjoyed the culture aspect as I was immersed in the world and hearts of cowboys. Though their emotions seem to be buried deeply, they love the outdoors, the animals and the danger of the rodeo life. Since it is a world far from my own, it’s one I’d love to read more about and Halvorson’s other books seem like a perfect place to start.
“For some reason, Mom’s words came back then. And for the first time, ever, I wasn’t sure I believed them. I figured maybe cowboys, even cowboys like my dad, needed to cry as much as anybody else. It was a long time later when I began to understand that maybe a guy like Dad couldn’t cry. Maybe if he ever started he’d never get stopped.” – Shane from Cowboys Don’t Cry by Marilyn Halvorson, page 5
“It was somewhere in Oregon. Dad had left me in a hotel room and sad he was going out for a little while. Only, he ended up getting in a fight in the bar and getting jailed overnight. I couldn’t go to sleep. I kept wondering where he was and if he was ever coming back so, for something to do, I picked up one of the Louis L’Amour westerns Dad always buys, and started reading. And suddenly I found out something special about books. They’re a place to escape to when you can’t really go anywhere. As long as I kept reading, I could just make myself disappear into the story and not be scared or worried or lonesome, nothing – I didn’t even have to be myself any more.” – Shane from Cowboys Don’t Cry by Marilyn Halvorson, page 13
“Then he started talking, slow and quiet. ‘Did you see this horse when she was tangled up in the wire?’
‘All right. Then, tell me, did she get cut up so bad because she got tangled up or because she wouldn’t quit fightin’, no matter how bad it hurt her?’
I didn’t know what he was driving at but I wasn’t about to get sassy again. I shrugged. ‘Fighting, I guess.’
Jeff nodded. ‘That’s right. And the same thing happens to people. Life sometimes tangles you up real bad. And you’ve only got two choices. Live with it as best you can and try and untangle it a little at a time. Or be like this poor ol’ horse. Tear yourself to pieces fightin’ it and still get loose.’
He was quiet a minute and when he started talking again he sounded tired. ‘And you Morgans are real good at tearing yourselves up.'” – Conversation between Jeff and Shane from Cowboys Don’t Cry by Marilyn Halvorson, pages 45-46
“Casey and her mom and dad were sitting on the deck outside their living room. Their big German Shepherd was lying beside Mrs. Sutherland and a couple of fat cats were flaked out in the last of the sunshine. They all looked so much like the perfect family that someone should have written a grade one reader about them.” – Shane from Cowboys Don’t Cry by Marilyn Halvorson, page 103
Cowboys Don’t Cry by Marilyn Halvorson is published by Clarke Irwin, (1984).