by Jane Smiley
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009
recent historical middle-grade
For Abby Lovitt, being a seventh-grader isn't easy, even if you live on a California horse ranch in the 1960s. Her father insists on naming all the mares "Jewel" and the geldings "George" so she won't get attached, but the horses are Abby's refuge from the wringer that is school. But one George is different: he bucks her off and isn't interested in listening to her one bit. And suddenly the horses don't seem like such a refuge at all.That last line is from the paperback copy, because it's perfect. :)
Okay, so I have no idea why, but I adore the way the title is set up. Plus the author's name is set neatly at the top, out of the way. But that image. ALL horse-related books feature a single horse head on the cover. Unimaginative much?
A note about that genre I gave it -- I really think there should be a "recent" historical category. I mean, when one says historical, you think Victorian era, early colonies, etc. etc., yes? So that makes the 1900s recent. Trust me on this. *nods firmly* Oh, and I love the title.
Voice. This book has it in spades (or so the expression goes; I don't actually have a clue what it means, hehe). Abby is the most authentic middle-grader ever, what with her exasperation towards seventh grade politics and clear-eyed view of the world:
Once upon a time, I would have told him [her dad] all about it [a mishap at school], just because it wasn't me who was in trouble, and it was all pretty interesting. But I knew what he would say: "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." I didn't think it was as easy as that.While on the subject of her dad: Abby's family is quite religious. And that "quite" deserves its italics. There's a distinct possibility readers will feel uncomfortable with the restrictions which she has to live with, though the religion portion also provides a venue for Abby to grow and change her developing, conflicting views on life. Her father seems controlling in addition to the religious emphasis on which he seems to place everything, which didn't make Abby's home life the most pleasant thing to read about.
Danny and Uncle Luke augment the roster of adept horsemen, but Jem Jarrow is a little too pro with horses to be believable. But goodness, the horse aspect in The Georges and the Jewels? Ahhhhhmazing. Smiley effortlessly integrates horse training techniques and aspects of horse ranch life, from the financial side to the chores. Even non-horse-lovers are going to get what it feels like to love horses. At least, I hope they will.
Have I mentioned yet that I love horses?
Rating: 3.7 out of 5