So, Sid Fleischman wrote The Whipping Boy which was rather silly, but still hilariously funny. Jim Ugly looked promising, so I snatched it. Boy, am I glad I did!
Jake’s father always called the dog Amigo. But Jake felt less than friendly towards the huge, wolflike dog with the glaring yellow eyes. He called the dog Jim Ugly even though he was really a pretty dog. But, however much they disliked each other, they both loved Jake’s father with a vengeance.
But Sam Bannock isn’t only blessed by friends – he’s also plagued by enemies. For some reason a man in San Francisco has placed a bounty on his head and men are taking pot-shots at him. Although he and Jake try to sneak away, a man in yellow striped pants manages to put a ball in his shoulder. Sam leaves Jake with their cousin Aurora while he and her husband, Axie set off to find a doctor. When Axie returns it’s with a sealed coffin. Sam was thrown from a horse and was killed. They bury the coffin in the cemetery and Jake stays on with Axie and Aurora.
Jake is heartbroken at the loss of his father. But for some reason, Jim Ugly’s not. And he’s acting rather strangely. Although inseparable from Jake’s father, instead of hanging out in the cemetery he seems more interested in the railroad depot in Smoketree Junction. What has gotten into that fool dog……
Suddenly a crazy idea dawns upon Jake. Perhaps his father isn’t really dead! Perhaps he only faked his death to throw the bounty hunters off his track – like an actor in a play – and is even now traveling the country alive and well. But how can Jake even begin to search for him? Perhaps that mongrelish Jim Ugly will come in handy after all…….
With nothing but a scent, Jake and Jim Ugly set off to find Sam Bannock. Along the way they cross the explosive D. D. Skeats and join the humorous Mrs. William Tell playacters. But will their journey be successful? Is Sam Bannock still alive? And if he is, will they find him before he is shot again?
It was very obvious that Jake practically worshipped his father. The entire story revolved around how much he loved him and wanted to be with him.
The relationship between Jake and Jim Ugly was very sweet. It began as arrogant tolerance on Jim Ugly’s part and positive aversion on Jake’s. Speaking of Jim Ugly, Jake writes,
“He hardly spared me a glance except when the town came into view about half a mile up the road. He finally sat for a moment and gave me a lofty look, as if to say I was a bother to have along. And did I have to make such a clatterwacking with my spurs?” [pgs. 24-25]
But by the end of the story, Jim Ugly attacks a man for assaulting Jake.
“I was close to tears. It was sheer fright, mostly, but it was also that Jim Ugly wasn’t going to let a man take a stick to me. I never guessed he’d do that. I never guessed that he cared about me.” [pg. 82]
I enjoyed the sprightly style of the story. There was humor, but no silliness. Phrases were used that were original and quite comical, but not bizarre. A bride says of herself “I was standing in so much white lace I looked like an Alps mountaintop!” She also says, speaking of the wedding, “There was enough rice to plant China!”
Aurora is a querulous woman who complains to and argues with her husband. This is done mildly and it is obvious that Aurora is supposed to be annoying.
‘Tarnation’ is used twice, ‘heck’ once, and ‘godforsaken’ once.
Conclusion. A great story for children, especially those who love animals or adventure stories. I recommend it fully.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret