Sunday, March 8, 2009

Happily After All
Laura C. Stevenson
1990, Houghton Mifflin

Five suitcases? You brought five suitcases?

Rebecca Davidson is 10 years old and her doting father has just died of cancer. The mother she's never met has met her at the airport in frigid Vermont and is, apparently, surprised that her long-lost daughter requires more than one suitcase in which to transport the contents of 10 years of living. Rebecca decides, wisely, to say nothing. She does fight back, however, when her mother refuses to call her by her full name.

My name isn't Becca; it's Rebecca. It's an Old Testament name, like all the names in Dad's family since the Mayflower, and you don't make nicknames out of Old Testament names.

Rachel laughs at the pretensions, lays out the truth for her 10-year-old daughter (apparently Daddy misled her about their origins), rubs it in, and then refuse to call her by her chosen name.

Sent from her comfortable California home to her mother's bare Vermont farm in mid-winter, Rebecca is miserable. Her mother, who she's always been told had abandoned her, is an angry, bitter woman who couldn't be more different from her adoring father. Rebecca's only consolation are the farm animals; Rachel Davidson has horses and a dog, and Rebecca can ride. Slowly, the truth about the Davidson family's past comes out.

Rebecca suddenly remembered driving along the freeway with Dad, asking why they lived in Santa Barbara. "Because the rest of the world is ugly," he'd said.

Rachel's anger is so inappropriately directed at her daughter and she is so self-absorbed years after the end of the marriage that presumably made her this way, that she's utterly unlikeable. The dead ex-husband who cheated on her and apparently made her the bitter, selfish woman she's become comes off as more likeable.

There are subplots about an angry, unhappy foster child, and a new best friend to make, both predictable plots which resolve in strained fashion. The new friend is the most natural character, probably because she's one of the few who isn't given the awesome responsibility of being a taciturn Vermonter or a traumatized wounded bird.

Gorgeous cover illustration of a red-headed child and a horse in a barn.

Mutt - brown Belgian gelding
Jeff - Belgian gelding
Dimwit - mare
Killiger's Sundance aka Dancer - 4 yo chestnut gelding
Gone With The Wind aka Goner - bay Welsh/TB cross gelding
Fanfare - Santa Barbara horse

Other animals
Xeno - dog
Tumnus - shepherd/lab/Great Pyrenees mix


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