|The Scholastic Books edition I had.|
The initially nameless protagonist, a young boy abandoned by his family or having survived them and traveling with sharecroppers across the Southern US, loses his first true friend, and budding romantic interest, in a horrible accident. Despondent over losing her, he simply starts walking, eventually to be found, collapsed and more than half-dead, by a Montana sheep rancher and her hands. She takes him in, and the rest of the novel is about David, he names himself after the Old Testament shepherd, attempting to grow into the role of young man and member of the family and crew. As simple as that, but told, as I remember it, with economy and grace, and not a little grit (the killing of his girlfriend in the first five pages isn't the only tough incident in the book, even if it is by far the worst).
This was my favorite novel when I was a nine- and ten year old, and I've always thought it was robbed of its Newbery (even if Cat is almost as good; Rascal, not really aimed at kids anyway, isn't in the same league). It neatly displaced Eleanor Clymer's excellent, gritty, urban (and pitched even younger) My Brother Stevie from favorite novel status, and even as I read any number of excellent (and some strikingly bad) novels from the Newbery shortlists, The Loner endured as the most meaningful to me. It didn't hurt that it was adapted into one of the best of the Miller-Brody Productions audio dramatizations my local library in Enfield, Connecticut, circulated...hearing just a few of those led me to the Newberys, and on occasion the adaptations outshone the books. Not in the case of Wier's novel, however...for some reason I didn't seek out more of her books, although she published a number. Too busy reading all I could of Twain and Kipling, horror and humor anthologies, mythology and folktale collections, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents: volumes, and whatever else interesting-looking that came my way...I think Keith Robertson's Henry Reed's Journey was the closest challenger among YA novels, with such wonders as Jean George's (very grim) Julie of the Wolves, E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, M. E. Kerr's books and that not-yet a trilogy much less a longer series A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door all coming up fast.
See the link pile of others' suggestions, and, I hope, Patti's own:
These are the editions I read of the other shortlisters for 1964 (published 1963).