Friday, October 17, 2014

Book review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

Fifteen-year-old Thea has grown up on a Florida estate in the 1920s, riding horses and hanging out with her twin brother and her cousin, mostly isolated. Then comes 1930. As the world is crashing down around them, they remain fairly isolated from it thanks to their mother's citrus farms, but their cousin isn't so lucky, as his father invested unwisely. And then something terrible happens. But you don't know what it is for a long time. Thea is sent off to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp in the North Carolina mountains (turns out it is also a school and her parents don't intend to collect her in the fall although they don't bother to tell her that.) Thea is being punished for an awful thing that happened back home, which we readers don't find out the details of for quite some time.

In the meantime, Thea builds a new identity, having girl friends for the first time, roommates, rivals, and even an inappropriate crush. She is obviously working out some of the trauma for herself through distance and physical activity, but that can't last of course, and the incident must eventually be dealt with.

Some members of my book club found The Incident quite graphic, but I did not. I was okay with it. I did though think people overreacted a fair amount. I really enjoyed the book so much more when she was at Yonahlossee.  Her mother I found cold and controlling. Her brother was odd and diffuse. The book had some brilliant turns of phrase, and really captured the timeframe well (although at a horse camp like that, it could have been any year int he previous 50 years, as not much had changed in that time.) It was fascinating to see the relatively slow impact of The Great Depression on the students and the school as the year 1930 spun out, with us knowing what they don't: that this will not be a fast rebound, and in fact will get worse before it gets better. There were some flaws in the plotting and some unrealistic parts. I found the cousin in particular to fluctuate times when he seemed so juvenile that I wondered if he were mentally handicapped, to other times when he seemed overly mature. Thea was prickly to say the least, but I liked her. I liked her strength, her ability to move forward no matter what, and her determination not to be a victim.

I bought this book from my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

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