Reviewed by Danielle Pullen
My parents sent me away because I wanted too much, wanted badly. And all that want was a dangerous thing...
High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a refuge of privilege in a land devastated by the Depression.
Thea Atwell's arrival late in the summer season causes a ripple of intrigue and speculation. But even the most scandalous rumour cannot come close to the truth that destroyed her family, and brought her here.
Fearless and unbroken, Thea soon finds that there is no banishment from secrets and temptations. Poised on the brink of adulthood, the events of that year will change the girls of Yonahlossee in ways they will never forget.
Thea Atwell is the newest arrival at Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls in North Carolina. Miles from her Miami home and separated from the sheltered upbringing that is her only life experience, she is initially shell-shocked by the other girls and the strict routine she must adhere to. The personalities and backgrounds of the other students are as difficult for Thea to get used to as the confusing feelings she has toward her family who have sent her to this institution after an incident that has caused shame.
The narrative flits between present-day events at Yonahlossee and snapshots of Thea’s childhood and life experiences with her family. The snapshots fill us in on the back-story and give us glimpses of events that led to Thea being placed at Yonahlossee. From her past, we are able to examine her relations hip with her mother and father, her brother Sam and cousin Georgie. From her present, we get to know the girls and staff; Mary Abbott, Cissy, Leona, Mr and Mrs Holmes, Docey.
The novel is set in the 1920s and so, issues of gender and race take on a new perspective. We must see the actions of the characters and their resulting implications through another lens. This can be very difficult, particularly with reference to the relationships between cultures and those in powerful positions.
This book has a great deal to answer for! I was not particularly attracted to the story-line after reading the blurb on the back of the book, neither did the cover do much to pique my interest. I continued, however, after reading a swathe of excellent reviews. I’m so pleased I did. Once I began to read, I wasn’t able to put this book down.
The plot moves along at a pace and various threads of the story evolve via the juxtaposition of the present day and Thea’s past. The plot is, at times, a little predictable but to criticise this is to miss the point. Disclafani is not writing a thriller so much as an examination of a girl treading the fine line between childhood and womanhood. And she does this with aplomb. The descriptions of the feelings Thea is facing as her relationships and life develop in unimaginable ways are truly genuine and reminded me of my own thoughts at that stage in my life. Disclafani taps into the teenage girl’s word more successfully than in any book I have read before.
This novel is certainly not perfect. For instance, the central relationship in Yonahlossee (I’ll be brief here so as not to give away any details) didn’t always ring true, particularly from the perspective of the man involved. Even given the different era, I doubt that he would have been such a disregard for the consequences and, as such, this does feel a little unrealistic. However, from Thea’s perspective, this relationship is very well drawn and the fact that she doesn’t seem aware of the long-term consequences is realistic for a girl of her age and it is just another strand in her growing development. In addition, I wondered if the book might not be as successful for male readers who would find it more difficult to tap into the idea of emerging womanhood.
At its core this novel examines relationships, be they between man and woman, employer and employee, rider and horse, parent and child or brother and sister. For the most part, this is done successfully and in a sensual and engaging style.
Yonahlossee acts as a catalyst for Thea and, at the end of the novel, she is emerging from the cocoon of childhood and learning how to face the world independently as a young woman.
A classy, sophisticated read.
I'd like to thank Frances for sending me a copy of this book and Danielle for reviewing it for me.