Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton: Book Review

January 24, 2011 Book Review 3

Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton: Book ReviewKings of Colorado by David E. Hilton
Published by Simon & Schuster on January 11th 2011
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 288
Source: complimentary review copy

William Sheppard is a 13 year old boy who has been sent away to the Swope Ranch Boys’ Reformatory for attempting to kill his father.  William’s sentence is 24 months hard time at the ranch working as a ranch-hand.  William had tried to protect his mother from his abusive father by stabbing him with the pocketknife his father had given him.  His mother did not see in her battered state of mind that Will was trying to save her, to save both of them.  “How could you, William! Oh, Jesus! How could you!” She kissed my father on the forehead, just as she had kissed me last Christmas Eve after he’d raped her.”

When Will is sent to the boys ranch he knows it’s going to be bad just from the rumors he had heard, but nothing prepared him for the cruelty of the guards and the hierarchy of boys on the ranch. His first experience with the horrors he was in store for was being attacked by the first boy who said hello to him.  Come to find out, every new boy was attacked by the most recent inmate – bets are made by the boys, the guards, everyone.  The cruelty is fierce.  The only bright spot Will finds is his relationship with the nurse and the 3 boys he does befriend.  Their way of passing time in the evening was to play poker with peanuts – The friendship between the four boys, the ‘four kings’, is something rare and truly beautiful.  The poignancy with which Mr. Hilton reveals the extent at which these boys have to rely on their friendship and with which Will develops with the horses he breaks is nothing short of epic.
Memorable Quotes:
People say places be haunted, but pay no mind. It’s us that’s haunted. We carry around our own spirits. We haunt ourselves with the past. Shame is my ghost, baby….Nurse Little
Author’s tone & writing style:
From the first line of the book “In the summer of 1963, when I was thirteen, I stabbed my father in the chest with a Davy Crockett Explorers pocketknife.” through the disclosure of Williams’ life, the author just grabs you and pulls you into caring for Will and his friends.  Each one ended up at Swope for reasons that rip your heart out and make you just want to envelope these boys in your arms.  The character development of Will and his friends, along with Will and Nurse Little is thick with emotion and realism.  At one point Nurse Little sings “You are my sunshine” to one of the boys who has been seriously injured, and I could picture the scene so vividly while hearing the soft refrains of “you are my sunshine” being sung in my ear.
Kings of Colorado flows almost effortlessly through the first 2/3rds of the book, but towards the end I felt like the author was trying to tidy up the loose ends and finish it. Other than the ending, I loved this book; I ached throughout reading this book for the characters –
Great Food from this Book:
Nurse Little’s homemade apple pie – one of the few kindnesses Will experiences during his stay at Swope
Mood this book evokes:
Keep your tissues handy while reading this book
If you like this book you might also enjoy: 
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

3 Responses to “Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton: Book Review”

  1. Skylab

    I am finishing up Kings of Colorado and, while everything you say is true, I have one difficulty with this book which is like a repetitive poke in the eye.
    There are no trees at 13,000 feet anywhere in Colorado. In fact, I expect there are no trees above 13,000 feet anywhere in North America. I live in Colorado at 8900ft and spend much of my time outdoors. I’ve been to Crested Butte, just north of Gunnison. I’ve skied Monarch, a few miles East of there. And there just are not trees to be found at 13000 feet. In fact, treeline throughout the state runs at 11,000 feet or so.
    This damages the verisimilitude of the book for me.

    • Stacy

      Now that is one tremendous flaw. Wow. I can see how with that knowledge it is “like a repetitive poke in the eye.” Never a truer metaphor! I’ve read books before where a significant point is wrong, and I felt the book had been ruined for me. So I completely get your metaphor and can understand your frustration with the book. Thanks so much for sharing that fact with me and for taking the time to comment.
      Stacy recently posted…A Story of Hope with The Feathered BoneMy Profile

      • Skylab

        I sent the same information to the author via a FB message.
        I was stunned that this flaw was not captured in editing. It would be easy to fix in a new edition – move Swope Ranch to 10,000 feet. He should get rid of the “mountain maple” references as well.

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