A young adult book that highlights horses and history by Diane Lee Wilson.
Author: Diane Lee Wilson
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Suitable for ages 12 and up.
Available on Amazon.
Rachel is a spirited horse crazy girl in a time (1872) when girls weren’t supposed to be spirited or crazy about horses. Things get even worse when she is uprooted from her country home, forced to sell her horse and move to Boston. Fate intervenes, though, when her older brother gets a job at a Boston fire station and takes on guardianship of a badly injured “fire horse” named Governor’s Girl.
For me, this book started out a bit contrived with Rachel pouting and the side characters being little more than stereotypical caricatures. “Mother” was constantly worrying about propriety, curtains and corsets. “Father” was over bearing and maniacally sexist. “Grandmother” was quirky and a source of solace for Rachel. Even the fact that the author didn’t name them kept them a bit two-dimensional.
As the story progressed, however, all of the characters grew and became more layered. In particular, I loved how the author presented Mother. At the beginning of the novel I loathed the woman, but by the end, if I didn’t love her, I at least respected her. I believe that sentiment was echoed in the main protagonist Rachel’s view as well.
The author’s prose is excellent. I especially appreciated the horse terminology used in everyday life. Rachel often describes herself as “galloping” or her heart “bucking.” The passages where she compares Mother to a tomato plant are also incredibly well written.
Someone had tied her to a stake, and while she’d grown tall and rigid, there wasn’t much color to her.
The author’s practical knowledge of horses is evident throughout, from the descriptions of riding a horse at full gallop to caring for thrush and colic. Likewise, her research of women’s rights during the time period is both enlightening and infuriating. The ‘Author’s Notes’ at the back of the book say the story was based on the diary of a 14-year-old girl who’d lived in Boston in 1872. It’s hard to imagine a world so closed to women, but the author presented the struggle in a very entertaining and inspiring way.
The book’s ending and its overall impression are mixed for me. Without giving away any spoilers, I loved the way Rachel’s story finished, but didn’t appreciate that so many mysteries were left unsolved. I believe the author restricted herself to historical accuracy in that she wouldn’t name a villain, but doing so left the final chapters muddled and inconclusive. Still, the book was a fun, fast read. I highly recommend it for any horse or history lover.
I give Firehorse three Golden Horseshoes.