Late in 1866, a 13-year-old Irish lad named Malachy Gormley heads West to work for the Pacific Railroad and support his widowed mother and siblings back East. He’s big for his age and looking for adventure. Malachy doesn’t mind hard work, nor is he afraid to stand up for himself with the other men who, like him, must brave extreme temperatures, avalanches and dangerous working conditions to achieve this incredible enterprise—the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

Malachy befriends a feisty bulldog he names Brina and a dedicated horse, Blind Thomas. But he is less sure what to think about the Chinese workers who have also been recruited for this hazardous work, especially one young man, Chun Krowk Keung, whom he calls “Ducks.”

Diane Lee Wilson’s meticulous research and elegant prose make the story of Malachy and the challenges he faces a compelling read. She doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects, including the insults that the Chinese men endure, the tensions between the workers and Malachy’s struggles to find his moral compass.

An avid horse lover, Wilson has written about horses in such previous novels as Black Storm Comin’ and Firehorse. Here, she bases the endearing character of Blind Thomas on a horse who “may or may not have existed” named Blind Tom, who was called a hero at the Golden Spike ceremony in Promontory, Utah, that joined the tracks on May 10, 1869. In Tracks, Wilson has created a stirring coming-of-age story for young readers and a thoughtful account of a fascinating time in history.

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