Publisher: Tinder Press
Publication date: 6th June 2013
Anton diSclafani’s debut novel is gorgeously-written, as I’ve come to expect from Tinder Press, and one that I devoured in a weekend.
Set in 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression, the novel opens with 15 year old Thea Atwell arriving at The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls in the mountains of North Carolina. She is dropped off by her father who hurries back to Florida, leaving Thea feeling distinctly out of place. Coming from an unusually insular family and used to seeing only her parents, her brother and occasionally her aunt, uncle and cousin, the number of girls at Yonahlossee stuns her.
Negotiating the complicated relationships within the camp is made slightly easier when she is befriended the extremely rich and popular Sissy, and helped further by her skills on horseback. She is a daring natural horsewoman who prefers horses to people, and whose reluctance to stay within the rules of the camp come to the fore when she is riding.
There is an underlying mystery about why Thea was sent to Yonahlossee, a secret which is revealed gradually in flashbacks to her life in Florida, at her family home among the orange groves. The secret, when it finally comes to light, isn’t unexpected and yet somehow doesn’t feel like an anti-climax. The quality of diSclafani’s writing is such that, although the pace of the story is slow, even languid at times, the narrative doesn’t flag.
Thea is a brilliantly-realised character: self-assured and detached but also rebellious and passionate, fighting against the restrictions placed upon her both at home and at the camp. She is mature far beyond her years and yet still very much a teenager. One of the relationships that she develops at Yonahlossee might raise an eyebrow but the way that diSclafani set it up stops it being beyond the realms of credibility. The details about the Depression, with some girls being taken away from the camp as their families lost everything, and Thea’s family forced to sell the house she loves, add a sense of tension and highlight the uncertainty of the situation.
I loved The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. It has fabulous writing, real emotion, a boarding-school vibe, a bit of mystery and horses – in short, it’s the grown-up version of my favourite childhood books.
Thanks to Tinder Press for sending me a review copy in return for an honest review.