2011 Oregon Book Award - Readers' Choice
Synopses & Reviews
Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson wants a home, food on the table, and a high school he can attend for more than part of a year. But as the son of a single father working in warehouses across the Pacific Northwest, Charley's been pretty much on his own. When tragic events leave him homeless weeks after their move to Portland, Oregon, Charley seeks refuge in the tack room of a run-down horse track. Charley's only comforts are his friendship with a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete and a photograph of his only known relative. In an increasingly desperate circumstance, Charley will head east, hoping to find his aunt who had once lived a thousand miles away in Wyoming — but the journey to find her will be a perilous one.
In Vlautin's third novel, Lean on Pete, he reveals the lives and choices of American youth like Charley Thompson who were failed by those meant to protect them and who were never allowed the chance to just be a kid.
"A blend of road novel and not-quite hard luck story, the latest from Vlautin (The Motel Life) begins when 15-year-old Charley Thompson and his father move from Spokane, Wash. to Portland, Ore., to give starting over yet another try. When Charley's dad takes up with a married secretary and stops coming home, Charley takes a job with Del Montgomery, a crank based out of the nearby racetrack who, among other things, shoots up a horse with vodka. After Charley's father dies from wounds suffered during a fight with his lover's husband, Charley, whom Vlautin has conveniently given the pastime of running, runs away with Pete, a horse and his only friend. This is where the narrative sours; Charley's trek across the West, occasionally on horseback, is dominated by an unbelievable stretch of luck: men appear to dispense food and money, miraculously uninhabited trailers contain washers and dryers, and his hitchhiking is eerie, but not dangerous. Still, Vlautin's characters, despite their unrealistic arcs, shine with his sparse style. It might be difficult to believe Charley's bottomless cache of silver linings, but it's remarkably easy to root for the kid." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Vlautin transforms what might have been a weepy, unbelievable TV-movie of a novel into a tough-and-tender account of a boy, a big-hearted horse, and a mostly unforgiving world....Unforgettable." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Spare and straightforward....There is intensity in Vlautin's narration, and also beauty and power....But Vlautin's major accomplishment lies in posing a damning question: How could we, as a society, have allowed this to happen?" Seattle Times
"Vlautin won me over. He's so much more than cool. I don't care if he hangs out at the racetrack. I care about whether he delivers. And in Lean on Pete
, he most certainly does. His prose is strong, his storytelling is honest, and he sticks to it scene by scene. By the time Lean on Pete
reaches its sweet but unsentimental end, Charley Thompson isn't a character in a novel, but a boy readers have come to love." Cheryl Strayed, The Oregonian
(Read the entire Oregonian review
"[Vlautin] unearths a world Steinbeck would have recognised...where the American underclass still resides. Lean On Pete is an archetypal American novel, Huck Finn for the crystal-meth generation."
Author Willy Vlautin—“a major realist talent”(Seattle Post Intelligencer) who is often compared to Raymond Carver, John Steinbeck, and Denis Johnson—returns with Lean on Pete, the story of a 15-year old boy struggling to make his way to a long lost aunt, who just might give him a home. In the words of author Mark Billingham, “Vlautin is a truly original voice.… [and] one of the best writers in America,” and “Lean on Pete is powerful, heartbreaking stuff.”
About the Author
Willy Vlautin is the author of The Motel Life and Northline, and the singer and songwriter of the band Richmond Fontaine.