Wednesday Book Review: ‘My Favorite Mistake’

Horse Nation book critic Erin McCabe gives showjumper Georgina Bloomberg’s young-adult novel a spin. Can she write as well as she rides?

From Erin:

Georgina Bloomberg and the 99%

Georgina Bloomberg and Catherine Hapka’s new book in their A-Circuit series, My Favorite Mistake, made me feel the same way I felt back in 2006 when Animal Planet aired Horse Power: Road to the Maclay.  Like the show, which was mildly shocking (and therefore enjoyable), the novel focuses on riders at an elite barn, girls whose parents are finance tycoons, rock stars, and movie stars who spend obscene amounts on their children’s riding (by obscene I mean buying mounts in the high five figures). Like the show, some of those girls have strings of five horses (and here I only have three!).  These are 16 year-old girls who live overlooking Central Park, have their own credit cards, think nothing of buying entire new show outfits because they feel like it (whereas I’m still wearing my hunt coat from 1994), and can call up the Car Service if their parents’ driver is unavailable to take them to the barn.  These are characters who say things like:  “Best part is, [Flame] was so cheap, I didn’t even have to ask my parents for the money to buy him.  I figure I’ll just deal with the surprise extra boarding fees later” and “My folks are in Brazil the entire month—if I bribe the house manager, he’ll totally let you all crash there for a few days.”  These are characters who never seem to go to school (OK, maybe it’s summer vacation, but then how does that explain the Florida circuit?) or work or have any kind of responsibilities other than riding.  And, true to the A-circuit stereotype, these girls call ahead so their horse is groomed and tacked up and lunged for them when they arrive at the barn.

Georgina Bloomberg putting the Women’s team ahead for good during the Nespresso Battle of the Sexes at the 2013 Winter Equestrian Festival last week:

[USEF Network]

While Bloomberg’s book reminded me on nearly every page of my status as one of the “horse poor,” it’s still kind of delicious reading spot-on descriptions of hand-walking a colicking horse, dealing with show nerves, and that feeling when everything but the course you’re riding just drops away.  And probably every horsegirl on the planet can identify with how Tommi feels during a conversation with cute non-horsey guy, Alex, after she’s mentioned her horse and barn and trainer:  “This was usually about the point when people started to zone out and look bored, no matter how polite they were trying to be.”  Yep.  I’ve been there pretty much any time anyone at a social event learns I have horses.

There’s also Kate, whose dad is a cop and whose mom stays at home, struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Kate is a workaholic working student who rides the sales horses and has to penny pinch to afford her Tailored Sportsmans.  Is it any surprise she’s my favorite?  We struggle along with her as she negotiates the uncomfortable juxtaposition between her middle-class life and the lives of the people for whom she works and whom she befriends.  She’s forced to compare herself to girls who can spring for several new show shirts just because one got slobbered on and who wear designer clothes on a daily basis.  (Maybe when Sports Illustrated starts covering Equestrian Sports, I won’t have to turn to the Internets to find out about Luli Fama bikinis).

Because this book is really written for a YA audience (yeah, that’s right.  I read Twilight and Harry Potter too.  I’m not ashamed), the issues the girls deal with are mostly boy drama (Is he using me to get close to my friend’s rock star dad?), party drama (My party-girl cousin trashed my parents’ house!) and friend drama (Does Kate have an eating disorder?  Should we have an intervention?), with a pinch of parent drama thrown in for good measure (although parents are mostly absent in this book—maybe because that’s how teenagers like it?).  I’d love more detail (more juicy stuff, please!), but this is one result of the novel switching between Tommi, Zara, and Kate’s points of view every few pages.  That’s great for maintaining the novel’s fast pace or if readers find one particular character grating (um, Zara?) or her problems repetitive (sorry, Kate), but not so great for developing depth and complexity.  Also, because this book is the second in a series of three, it refers to the previous book’s events and doesn’t feel quite resolved at the end.  While it definitely stands alone, perhaps I might not have craved so much character development here (especially for minor-ish characters like Fitz, Kate’s boyfriend, and Natalie, her former best friend) if I’d read the first book.

I suspect teenage readers who’ve outgrown The Saddle Club will enjoy this book, which I imagine is a bit like Sweet Valley High with horses… except I was never allowed to read Sweet Valley High because my mom thought it was too racy.  Which brings me to another point: as a parent, I might be a little worried about some of the references to partying, especially the hints about Zara’s cousin’s activities with her male guests.  That said, the main characters’ romances never go beyond making out and the boys and parties never truly overshadow the horses.  Which is pretty much as it should be.

Oh, and P.S. Part of the proceeds from every book sale go to benefit the ASPCA.  Which is very nice.

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