Okay, I admit it--I picked up this book because the girl on the cover looks like my cousin Callie. A story about Joe, a baby girl who was adopted by Dennis after her parents die in the Australian desert. Dennis raises Joe as a boy because he feels a girl would be too 'vulnerable' in his nomadic lifestyle. Joe knows she's a girl, but has been instructed to present herself as a boy to everyone they meet so that she can retain her freedom and safety.
This book was also REALLY slow to get started, and the writing style felt pretty amateur to me. There were scenes near the beginning that I felt could have been condensed, or left out entirely. A lot of painstaking detail about Joe's childhood and another family that would come into the story later. Also, the writer had the REALLY annoying habit of switching perspectives within the same scene. I HATE when writers do that. Dude, you can't be everywhere at once. It makes me dizzy. Where was this guy's editor? Before writing YA novels, Ron wrote for TV series. And you can tell, because the novel feels more like a series of events (a mini-series) than a complete, well-rounded work. This book wasn't really sure whether it wanted to be a story about Joe struggling with her identity (boy vs. girl/adoptive father vs. blood relatives), a story about Dennis having to let his daughter grow up, a story about Joe falling in love, an Australian survival story, or an adventure complete with kidnappings, breakouts, and side shows.
With all that said, there were some parts of this book that were really beautiful. The central characters were well-developed and it was clear Ron really, really loved and cared for them. The relationship between Joe and Dennis was particularly compelling and believable, as was Dennis' reluctance to give up the life he and Joe had always lived. The sense of place and lifestyle was strong, and I felt that Ron really personified certain elements of the setting--the Australian trails, the camels who pulled Dennis' and Joe's wagon, in a beautiful way. There was some real ringing truth about life and the inevitability of change couched in the midst of a plot that was running this way and that.
Another slight point of annoyance: Ron spent most of his energy developing Dennis' character and showing the book's events through his eyes. I feel like that keeps it from being a good young adult novel, since it's set up to make you identify with the adult character. But, I guess it's not surprising that this novel can't decide what genre it ought to be in, either.