Book Review: ‘Stay the Distance’

A young adult horse racing novel by Mara Dabrishus.

frontcover copy

Like any self-respecting horse-crazy kid, the bookshelves of my youth were stocked almost exclusively with horse books of every shape, size, and genre. I remember one shelf in particular that stood out, lined as it was with worn paperback spines in the coordinating pastel colors that were the hallmark of Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred series.

By the time the final book was published in 2005, I was the proud owner of somewhere around sixty of the seventy-two books in the series (not including the spin-off prequel series, which I had a complete set of, and the handful of special editions that I could never find and am bitter about to this day), the fruits of my single-minded, years-long quest through every local Barnes & Noble, Borders, used book store, library book sale, and, inexplicably, the university bookstore at UPenn, where I remember finally finding a copy of A Horse Called Wonder the day we dropped my oldest sister off for college (sorry, Maureen, but this was eight-year-old Eileen’s most vivid memory of that probably pivotal family moment).

If my childhood obsession sounds at all familiar to you — or, honestly, even if it doesn’t — I highly recommend picking up a copy of Stay the Distance by Mara Dabrishus. It’s reminiscent of the Thoroughbred series all grown up (yes, that introductory tangent did have a point), but pulling fewer punches and reminding the reader of the reality of the horse racing business and what it means for the people who work on the backside.

Stay the Distance follows July Carter, the daughter of a successful Thoroughbred trainer, through what she fears may be the last Saratoga summer season for their stable, as the farm’s owners are facing serious financial problems and an elite racing string may be a luxury they can no longer afford.

This news comes on top of an already tumultuous summer for July: She’s just decided to work with the horses full-time instead of attending college in the fall as she’d originally planned, her favorite horse in the barn is moved down the ranks to claiming races after repeated poor performances on the track, and she and her family are still coming to terms with her mother abandoning them to chase her dreams as a professional jockey on the West Coast racing circuit. So while the start of the Saratoga season is usually the highlight of their year, it’s colored by worry and personal conflicts as July, her family and friends, and the owners themselves begin coming to terms with what comes next.

Dabrishus is an excellent storyteller, immersing the reader in the vibrant day-to-day life of the racetrack. Horse-centered novels always run the risk of focusing too heavily on the drama of the characters’ lives and including horses as more of a side plot — which is probably a safe bet for most normal readers, but I almost always find myself wishing for more horses and fewer human characters. Dabrishus, however, manages to find the perfect balance between the two, using her knowledge of the horse world to create what is not only a realistic depiction of track life, but also a compelling coming-of-age story about a young woman who’s learning to roll with the punches life throws at her and about the horses and horse people who help her to find her place in the world.

Stay the Distance is available on Amazon.

Eileen Cody’s love of reading goes back almost as long as her love of all things equine, and while her literary interests are about as varied as her equestrian ones, horse books naturally dominate her shelves. Find her a horse book she won’t read or a discipline she won’t try, and she probably owes you a drink or something.


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