Fourteen-year-old John Barron is asked, like his father and grandfather before him, to spend the summer taking care of their sheep in the haymeadow. Six thousand sheep. John will be alone, except for two horses, four dogs, and all those sheep.
John doesn't feel up to the task, but he hopes that if he can accomplish it, he will finally please his father. But John finds that the adage "things just to sheep" is true when the river floods, coyotes attack, and one dog's feet get cut. Through it all he must rely on his own resourcefulness, ingenuity, and talents to survive this summer in the haymeadow.
When John is 14, a shortage of hired hands compels him to spend the summer caring for several thousand sheep in a high-country meadow. Several days' ride from the ranch, John has only himself to rely on when disasters strike, and he learns that he is more resourceful and resilient than he'd guessed. The Newbery Honor-winning author writes with power and at times grace of the relationships between man and animal--whether examining John's custodianship of the sheep, his complex interdependence with his dogs and horses or his view of the creatures that prey on the flock. And, as in earlier novels, Paulsen describes taut scenes of physical drama and suspense. But the book's pacing is skewed--the first third is devoted to setting up the scene, after which the action is numbingly relentless--and a subplot concerning John's idealization of his great-grandfather and sudden intimacy with his father is forced and unconvincing. Ages 10-up.