Carla Lake reviews Anton DiSclafani’s hot-off-the-presses debut novel, a coming-of-age narrative staged against an equestrian backdrop.
After I saw the mention of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani in the New York Magazine article that Horse Nation brought to our attention about a week ago, I went out and bought the book. What the heck, I thought. I was looking for a good summer read and I’ve always had a soft spot for books about precocious kids who go off to boarding school, from Harry Potter to The Little Princess. Plus, HORSES, duh.
Well. It was SAUCY.
The protagonist is naïve teenager Thea Atwell, an equestrian who has lived a very sheltered (yet totally awesome) life in 1930s Florida, riding her pony Sasi all around their expansive estate–near-untouched by the Great Depression because her father is just that rich–while coming of age in the most scandalous manner possible.
However, there wouldn’t be much of a story if life was all rides across the countryside and rolls in the hay. After playing a part in a family tragedy that is only fully revealed at the end of the book, Thea finds herself exiled to an exclusive Southern riding camp/boarding school nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Some punishment, right?
But of course Thea moans and whines and complains—as teenagers tend to do—then gets over herself and starts making friends and rivals at the riding school. I kept looking forward to the riding play-by-plays as Thea prepares for the school’s spring show, but to be honest, they weren’t as detailed as I hoped—likely because the book is for a lay audience. On the bright side, there wasn’t anything that was outright wrong, which is more than you can say for a lot of equine movies and fiction. (I’m looking at you, Secretariat. Seriously? The LAST thing you look for is a physical problem, and it turns out he’s had an abscess in his mouth the whole time?!)
Anyway. The true strength of this book really is the romance scenes—but they aren’t the absurd, over-detailed kind of thing you’d expect from a romance novel. They come at you out of nowhere, in stalls and secret corners. They’re sneaky, and intense—like a teenage romance itself. The suspense of the racy goings-on at the Yonahlossee Camp for Girls really keeps the plot ticking along much more than anything horse-related does.
So although it wasn’t the 24/7 pony fest I expected, I breezed through the novel’s 388 pages in just a few days. This is a summer read that most anyone could enjoy—but that equestrians will lust over.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani, published June 2013, is available in bookstores and online.
Carla Lake is a financial media editor and a recent convert to dressage from hunterland. She leases an OTTB named Midnight who is an excellent teacher.