Catch Reader Erin McCabe reviews Catch Rider, Jennifer Lyne’s debut young adult novel.
I’ve always admired those riders who are brave and sticky enough to “ride anything,” but if there is one thing I will never be, it’s a catch rider. Oh sure, I like taking an unfamiliar horse for a spin–if I’m reasonably certain the horse isn’t spooky or crazy or hot or going to kill me. Which is to say that mostly I just like riding my own two horses—I’ll just stick to being a catch reader, thank you.
Jennifer Lyne’s debut YA novel, Catch Rider, follows 15 year old “ride anything” Sidney Criser on her quest to escape her roots in the stifling, stinky paper mill town of Covington, Va. and become what she thinks is the best kind of rider there is: a catch rider.
After spending her childhood riding horses for her horse trader Uncle Wayne and her (now-deceased) father Jimmy, Sidney is already one tough cookie. Not just in the saddle, but in every part of her life. If someone crosses her, her friends, or her mother Melinda, she’s not afraid to hurl insults, throw punches, or pull guns. Perhaps it goes without saying, but Sidney doesn’t exactly fit in at her high school or at the fancy show barn where her Uncle Wayne gets her a job cleaning stalls. It doesn’t really matter though, because all Sidney really wants to do is ride. Her dream is to compete in the Maclay finals, but that seems like a dim possibility since Uncle Wayne never keeps his best horses for long and Sidney’s mother is struggling to make ends meet after the death of Sidney’s father.
Of course when diamond-in-the-rough Sidney proves she knows horses and can really ride, the posh girls who ride at Oak Hill Farm take notice and the claws come out. I won’t give away what happens, because that would spoil the fun, but I will say that Catch Rider deals with issues of class that are inherent in the horse world (especially when big shows and expensive horses are involved). The novel also uses the Appalachian setting to effectively touch on issues such as poverty, domestic violence, and alcoholism, giving the book depth beyond Georgina Bloomberg’s A Circuit series. And although Lyne doesn’t address these issues with the same complexity as M. Garzon’s Blaze of Glory series, that, combined with no partying, no sex and no f-bombs (though there is swearing), makes me comfortable saying this book is appropriate for a wider audience—tweens through adult—than the other two series.
Comparisons aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced novel, which has hints of romance and enough horse action (Absorbine! George Morris references! Vogel boots and GPA helmets! Grumpy trainers! Madison Square Garden!) to keep any HorseGirl happy. However, I must say it took me a bit to warm up to Sidney. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good feisty, stubborn female protagonist— traits Sid has in spades—and though she also reminded me of Ree played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone whom I adore, Sid sometimes comes off as almost too hard. For awhile, I wasn’t sure she really cared about the people or horses in her life. Of course, she does—it’s just that she has a thick protective shell as a result of too many disappointments and heartbreak mixed with not enough hope. I just wished the book had developed her softer side a teensy bit more. I also wished the other characters were fleshed out more fully (think a body condition score of 7 or 8 instead of 4 or 5).
Though the novel’s conclusion quite satisfyingly braids all the strands of the plot together without feeling at all slick or gimmicky, it’s a little rushed. It leaves long instead of getting to a deeper spot with several characters who undergo big changes of heart. I can’t quite decide if this is an issue because the first person/present tense narration limits Sidney’s ability to do much reflection and makes it impossible for the reader to access other characters’ perspectives, or if it’s a matter of the book being underwritten and targeted for a younger audience. Regardless, this novel is worth picking up, especially if you’re looking for solid horse action combined with a more serious protagonist and weighty plot that still manages a feel-good ending.
Erin McCabe rides two OTTB mares and hopes to someday soon get back to competing at horse trials. Her first novel, I Shall Be Near To You, is forthcoming from Crown Publishing in January 2014. You can learn more at erinlindsaymccabe.com.