Buffalo Summer is an entertaining story set on a buffalo ranch in Montana. While it is heartwarming, it is a tad too melodramatic and just a little too predictable for pure satisfaction. Nichols often chooses settings that are unique and a buffalo ranch is definitely different.
Pony Young Bear is a Native American woman who wants to maintain her culture and heritage but also live in the real world. She has decided the best thing she can do is help those living on the reservation. She got her degree and is now teaching third grade and trying to help young teenage boys who have dropped out. Pony (a nickname she got from riding on her brotherís shoulders all the time as a child) carries around some secret hurting, but is determined to help these boys make something of themselves. She is currently playing mother to five boys who range in ages from 11 to 16.
Pony spent one summer on a buffalo ranch and knows a lot about these unique beasts. Caleb McCutcheon knows nothing about them, but he just bought a ranch with about 20 head. He is a retired major league ball player, who could have been in the Hall of Fame but for an injury. He is divorced from a wife who loved the limelight. And he needs help on the ranch.
Pony agrees to help him set up his fences and corrals during the summer hiatus from school, and she brings her five charges with her. As the boys learn how to be men, Pony learns about love. She and Caleb fall for each other, yet cannot tell each other for fear of rejection.
This story has a kitchen sink of characters. We have the crusty codger who has been on the ranch forever and while he talks a mean fight, he easily takes to the boys and they to him. We have the Spanish housekeeper who fusses and storms around, but is soft at heart. We have the neighbors, Jesse and Guthrie, who help out all they can.
Then we have the boys. One is the youngest, Jimmy, who just wants someone to pay attention and love him. The other we really get to know is Roon, a young man whose family moved away without him, whose brother died in a car accident and who has been through some tough times. As he spends time on the ranch, he discovers a love and talent for handling animals. Often, Roonís story is the one that pulls at your heartstrings, and at times this gets too sugary.
Pony and Caleb are a nice couple, but donít really distinguish themselves from so many others I have read about. The scenes with the buffalo are unique and interesting. Some of the actions are there to provide poignant moments. Nothing against poignant moments in romances, but these would have been more effective if theyíd been a bit more subtle.
At times, the characters use too much page space whining about the unfairness of life. An example of this is the issue around the prejudice Native Americans experience. Nichols starts off by showing life on the reservation and mentioning the hopelessness the boys feel. But when choosing to show how that plays out in real life, she uses a cartoonish mayor who is just full of hate. This tactic diminished the message.
There is little to no sexual tension, and very little evidence that Pony and Caleb are falling in love. They grow to respect each other, and feel good about what they are doing on the ranch. Next thing I know, they are telling others they are in love. I was happy they fell, but didnít feel a real part of their romance.
Buffalo Summer is an interesting story with the buffalo providing a unique twist. The major aspects of the tale are generally traditional and predictable.