I think I had my expectations wrong; that’s why I wasn’t as into this one as I’d hoped. I somehow thought/hoped The Compton Cowboys was going to be more history than it was the personal stories of the current generation of members. The idea of urban cowboys is fascinating enough by itself, but add in the racial and socio-economic complications and this could have been really amazing. I’m not saying it isn’t interesting or not a good book; it’s fine. I was just hoping for more.
Essentially, this is the interwoven stories of several of the presumably current members of the Compton Cowboys including Randy, Anthony, Keenen, and Keiara. In the background there is also Mayisha, the founder of the group about a generation prior who is in the process of retiring for most of the book. Most everyone comes from rough circumstances of various kinds, and they all have their own individual struggle that range from worries about keeping the ranch where the group is based going to raising children to addiction. The whole book treats riding and cowboy competition as therapeutic for each member in their own way, although the competition bit doesn’t get as much detail about how that works; for those of us non-horse people, that would have been nice to at least have some general background.
What this book does do very well is present a series of individual portraits of people who are doing their best in difficult circumstances that are often the result of the area’s (and the US in general) long history with poverty, gangs, and racial tensions. The author prologue and final note adds to this, when he points out that at first he had a hard time getting the initial interview since several people didn’t believe that someone who looked like him (his portrait and name suggest mixed race ancestry but it’s hard to say for sure) would actually be a reporter for a major news publication like the New York Times. Although I know the purpose of the book is more ethnographic (the author says so), I think it really would have added to the whole focus on the kinds of people who are the center of the book if there had been a little more about the process of interviewing and researching for the book; admittedly, this could again just be me wanting more historical background and focus.