This book will definitely be one of my favorites for this year. I like it for several reasons. First, it’s an interesting story that’s told well. There’s a family tragedy and 15-year-old Thea Atwell is held responsible; so much so that her family sends her away to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. But it isn’t just a summer camp; it’s also a year-round boarding school for Southern girls from wealthy families. The time is 1930 and as the country is teetering on the Great Depression, the girls at Yonahlossee are shielded from its realities — at first.
The author subtly weaves in the details of what happened to Thea and her family, rather than starting at the beginning and reporting the facts sequentially. This method forces the reader to think and pay attention, staying alert for clues to figure it out. A less talented writer wouldn’t have let the story unfold this way.
I also liked immersing myself in the lives of these girls and their families during a time of national upheaval. Reading about the rules and values of that era were not so entirely distant from my own girlhood in the slow changing Southern landscape. It brings back memories of all-girl summer camps. Any woman who attended these camps or all-girl schools will identify with the dynamics that immerse Thea at Yonahlossee as she tries to come to grips with her role in her family’s events of the past year. At Yonahlossee Thea’s eyes are opened to the realities of a larger world that will change her sense of what’s possible for herself, her family and her country.
Another great part of this book are the elements of the equestrienne prowess of Thea and some of the other girls. The love of horses and the discipline and competition of riding play a role in the school’s rituals. The author, a creative writing teacher at Washington University, was raised in northern Florida where she rode horses and competed nationally. Amazingly, this is her first book.
“Engrossing, empathetic, and atmospheric, this debut will resonate with readers as the author eloquently portrays the inevitable missteps in coming of age. Highly recommended.” – Library Journal starred review.
— Lynn Lofton, firstname.lastname@example.org
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