Cloudy in the West by Elmer Kelton

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Cloudy in the West is the story of how twelve-year-old Joey Shipman learns to face with maturity the many problems that plague his life. Born and reared on the Shipman Ranch near Athens in East Texas, Joey's real mother has already died at the beginning of the story, and his father and his only other friend die shortly thereafter. Without parents, Joey is left in the custody of a stepmother and her "cousin" who are determined to take ownership of the East Texas ranch Joey had inherited from "Pa." The stepmother inherits the property if Joey dies, and the boy finds his life in danger. Mysteriously, a bull attacks him, then several weeks later he finds a rattlesnake in his bed. Believing that his stepmother is behind the attempted murder, he flees to his only living relative, a second cousin named Beau, who has a reputation as an alcoholic.

This action of flight sets the stage for Joey to begin in earnest the painful process of personal growth towards maturity. Not only must Joey overcome the drunken unreliability of Beau, the continuing hostility of his stepmother's new husband—the former "cousin"—who pursues him with baleful intent, and the numerous physical obstacles presented by the unrelentingly harsh landscape and social climate of the Texas of about 1885, but he must also learn to overcome the romantic idealism that compels him to continue journeying West in search of the freedom, the boldly heroic men, and the untroubled life he believes lies in wait for his...

(The entire section is 382 words.)