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Miguel Chavez comes from a large family of shepherds living in northern New Mexico, at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. At twelve years old, his dream–his desperate wish, even–is to join his father, uncles, and older brothers in driving the sheep into the mountains for the summer. But it seems, once again, that he will be left behind–too young, not useful enough.
So Miguel tries catching everyones attention by being as useful as possible, but this backfires. His only hope now is to pray hard to the patron saint of all farmers everywhere, who is also his villages particular saint. And wouldnt you know, San Ysidro comes through for him, but in an unexpected way, taking something Miguel loves away in return for granting him his hearts desire. Somehow this turns out heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time, particularly in the scene that stands at the heart of the whole book, in which Miguel and his brother Gabriel work out what has happened and why it happened.
Its a fine example of the coming-of-age story told in the simple, somewhat crude but often hauntingly poetic, diction of its young hispanic narrator. Its also a very interesting lesson in the realities of farm life, including descriptions of lambing time, sheep shearing, and looking for lost sheep. But finally, it hashes out a philosophy of life that is at once naïve and wise; doubting and believing; religious and superstitious; and most importantly, a breakthrough from boyish selfishness to thinking about others–from the family circle to the wide, wide world.