Updated: Jan 27
A coming-of-age story about a boy and his unlikely friendship with a horse. To save his new friend from certain death, he embarks on a lengthy journey. This is my review of Lean On Pete by Willy Vlautin.
Now, I am a huge fan of horses so not knowing much about this story, I thought I might enjoy it. However, when horses are involved, there is often a lot of cruelty, even in fictional stories. We start by getting to know Charley and how dire his personal circumstances are. He is only fifteen but is left to take care of himself most of the time. His mother is out of the picture and his father is a bit of a low-life.
That’s when Charley somehow manages to get a job with this racehorse trainer. Unlike your traditional mentor-child story (like Karate Kid), this guy is assists Charley but has a lot of his own personal issues; one being that he doesn’t truly care about the horses, only about how much they make him.
Charley develops an affinity with the horse Lean On Pete who the mentor drugs and pushes way too hard, knowing that he will injure himself. Charley does his best to look after him and decides to rescue him. Through their journey, Charley has a lot of time to reflect on his life and who he wants to be as well as facing many challenging situations and cruel people.
Lean On Pete is an easy read, not a long book and the chapters are easy to get through. It’s written from Charley’s perspective and gives you a clear sense of his character as well as his good nature. As a reader, we develop our opinions about the other characters through their actions. It’s interesting to see how naïve the main character is but it also reminds us to not be so cynical about everything.
Aside from that though, I didn’t really enjoy the book. There were a number of parts I found boring. I didn’t like the relationship formed between Pete and Charley. I had anticipated it would be somewhat similar to Black Beauty where you see the horse cares for the boy in return but it felt as though Pete was being portrayed a bit dumb. The challenges they faced were realistic but hard to read as a lover of horses.
The ending, I hated. It was kind of predictable, miserable, and made the entire journey seem wasted. Personally, I didn’t feel like Charley had grown much as a character and I didn’t feel like his life was going to be much happier after the book ended.
Whether you decide to read it or not depends on what you enjoy reading or what mood you are in. If you want a sombre tale about a young, troubled life, then it may be perfect. If you want to read about the bond between person and horse then I wouldn’t bother. The entire time, my heart went out to Pete but I felt as though I should have felt more sorry for Charley. The fact is, I didn’t. He made bad decisions and he knew it. If you enjoy a very realistic tale then again, this may be the book for you, but if you want something uplifting, this isn’t it. I felt miserable for a long time after finishing reading it, and personally, that’s not a feeling I want from something that is supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable. Even some heart-breaking stories can leave a glimmer of hope or joy in your heart (like the fault in our stars).
My Rating - 5.5/10