By Brittney Joy.
As a kid, I devoured horse books by the dozen, living vicariously through the adventurous characters who blazed trails, tamed wild horses, and overcame immense obstacles with their loyal equine partners. While I adored long-running series like The Saddle Club and Thoroughbred, I found that Western-oriented horse books were few and far between; oftentimes, the ones I did read often had older male protagonists and the horses were ancillary rather than central characters in the stories.
Oregon-based author Brittney Joy seeks to fill the niche of Western-themed equine fiction for young adults with her Red Rock Ranch series. The first two books, Lucy’s Chance and Showdown, feature strong female leads and the special horses in their lives.
Lucy’s Chance introduces readers to Lucy Rose, a sixteen-year-old stablehand at Red Rock Ranch. The book follows Lucy’s adventures as she learns the ropes of ranch life. As she gains experience and confidence in her daily work, Lucy juggles a growing crush on her fellow ranch hand Casey and the accompanying conflicts with Taylor, a catty and jealous rodeo queen.
During a ride through the Oregon mountains, Lucy and Casey discover a feral black gelding and pony him back to the ranch. Readers then accompany Lucy’s struggles to tame, train, and earn the trust of the fearful horse aptly named Chance. The author’s experiences with horses and riding clearly show in the narrative, which brings every detail of Lucy’s world to life.
In Showdown, the second book in the series, Taylor becomes a more central character as she and Lucy alternate narrating their experiences at a championship horse show. While Lucy’s Chance mainly paints Taylor in a negative light, the second book does a wonderful job of making Taylor a well-rounded and more sympathetic character. She is not just a spoiled mean girl; she is assertive and sarcastic, but the tremendous pressure she puts on herself and others is largely caused by some very real family issues. I hope that her past is revealed in greater depth in the next book, as Taylor quickly became one of my favorite characters (much to my surprise).
I enjoyed the contrasting settings of each book, from the idyllic ranch near the mountains in Lucy’s Chance to the hectic and cutthroat atmosphere of a large-scale show in Showdown. Lucy’s first experience in a chaotic warm-up ring made me smile as I remembered my own horse show misadventures.
Brittney Joy leaves no detail untouched; I could practically smell the stall bedding and ShowSheen in the air. At times, the flow of the stories can become awkward with too many details, and the characters and story are fairly predictable. However, the dialogue is realistic and Lucy’s thoughtful and caring personality makes her a great role model for younger readers. Taylor’s voice helps readers see the story from a different perspective, and things aren’t always what they seem.
I think these books are great for young readers in need of strong characters and exciting scenes. The horse and rider interactions in the Red Rock Ranch books are much more realistic than your average starry-eyed horsey fairytale, which is refreshing. I hope to see more of Lucy, Taylor, and their equine friends in future books.