It’s a good time to be a fan of westerns. It’s a genre that comes and goes, but between 2018 and 2019 we’ve had cowboy stories across all media, from films such as The Ballad of Buster Scruggs to video games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and even the hit pop song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X.
In terms of literature, westerns are still a fairly niche genre, but W. J. Humphrey’s middle-grade Wright Family series is sure to be a hit with kids and their parents alike.
That’s right: saddle up, cowboys and cowgirls, because Trouble on All Sides, the second book in Humphrey’s series, is here.
Ben and Charity Wright are the young leads in this and the first installment. They’re good kids, who, after the untimely death of their parents, have moved onto their grandfather’s ranch. They always try to do the right thing, Ben in particular. That’s how he lands himself in hot water – trying to help out a woman outside the local saloon, Ben unknowingly puts his grandfather in the crosshairs of Fiona, a crafty grifter.
Between her and the story’s other villain, Runt Shelby (a layered, complex baddie with a fascinating moral code – he could’ve stepped out of a Coen Brothers western, stolen a horse and giddy-upped on over to the pages of this book), Ben and Charity truly are surrounded by trouble on all sides.
What makes Fiona and Runt such compelling antagonists is how different they are. Runt is, well, a bit of a runt, but from the day he claimed his freedom he’s known that where there’s a will there’s a way out of any jam, provided you have backup. Backup comes in the form of a gang that he slowly puts together.
While Runt collects partners (pardners?) Fiona operates alone. She has a taste for wealthy men, or at least for their money; she’s a femme fatale with an ironic and fairly noble day job – schoolteacher. For kid readers daydreaming in class, she’s the perfect villain!
Beyond the characters, there’s the setting. The Wild West depicted here is not only historically accurate, it’s also a sandbox for lawlessness that represents the delicate structures that attempt to maintain order in a world where only the cleverest outlaws can get ahead. The Wright ranch stands as a monument to honest living and it is the bedrock upon which Ben and Charity learn morality and justice.
These elements come together to form a likable, readable, tense and occasionally hilarious middle-grade western that’ll give your young ranch hands their cowboy fix. And if you’re an adult reader who likes cool villains and kids with a whole lot of moxie, you just might like it too.
Trouble on All Sides is now available for purchase.
Learn more about W. J. Humphrey on his Author Profile page.
About W. J. Humphrey
W. J. Humphrey didn’t begin to write until after retirement. Before that, Humphrey worked over 20 years at a religious printing company and for 16 years at an office supplies wholesaler. He has lived his entire life in Nashville, Tennessee and wouldn’t want it any other way.