A Horse Named Peaceable
Isabelle Holland, il. Frederick Porter IV (cover)
1982, Lothrop, Lee & Shephard Books
"..I don't think a relationship with a horse is a good substitute for relationships with people. I mean it. You don't like school. The teachers tell me you don't join in many activities. Your grades - well, we won't go into them today. We've had that out before and it's never been pleasant for either of us. In fact, all you do care about is that horse of yours."
After her mother's death two years ago, 12-year-old Jessamy West and her father have grown increasingly distant, and one favorite bone of contention is her horse, Peaceable. David Wainscott is an Episcopal bishop who feels that the money and love that his daughter lavishes on the horse is an immoral waste. Jessamy strongly suspects he also finds it embarassing that he, a famous activist concerned with world poverty, owns an animal which is so often used as a symbol of self-indulgent wealth. She only got the horse through the intercession of her mother, who understood loving animals; in the years since her mother's death, Jessamy has worked around a disreputable but cheap local barn to earn Peaceable's keep, but now David is departing on a long trip to help the poor overseas, and Jessamy must be sent away to boarding school. David, not understanding the bond or the shadiness of the barn, is late with board payments. Jessamy's headmistress, firmly instructed by David to keep her from running off to be with the horse all the time, keeps her from visiting often. And when Jessamy gets to the barn one day, Peaceable's gone. Has he been sold to the meat man, or gone to auction?
All my friends - all the kids at school and their older brother and sisters at college - thought the Bishop was super-marvelous. The new Church in action. Etcetera. It made it hard. I couldn't very well knock my own father - at least I hadn't been able to until now. But if he was so super-marvelous, why didn't he take proper care that Peaceable would be all right - particularly since he sent me away where I couldn't keep an eye on him. It was my super-marvelous father's fault that Peaceable was now... might be...
Jessamy, incandescant with rage at her father and determined to track down her horse, goes home to get funds from the empty house. And runs into a would-be burglar, a teen with a flair for language and a bitter voice who tells her to call him Rudd, and his collie mix dog Weaver. The three disguise themselves and leave the city, travelling to a country auction where Peaceable was supposed to be sold.
Jessamy, now posing as Rudd's kid brother Josh, argues endlessly with Rudd, who challenges her rage at her father and her beliefs in general. Rudd's story comes out slowly; like Jessamy, he's poured his love into an animal, the collie mix Weaver. He also ran away, though in his case he was running away from his father, a preacher who was also a drunk.
An unusual horse book in that the horse actually doesn't appear in most of it. It's smart and well-written, and a strong story. It deals with several tough issues - how good, decent people can do horrible, irresponsible things with animals because they just don't think very deeply about them, and how the love of an animal isn't somehow a perversion of what should be love for another person. Although the horse is absent most of the time, it's a loving portrait of the power of the bond they can inspire.
I've included a link to another blog's review of The Man Without A Face, below, despite the complete lack of relevance to this blog, because I find it so interesting that an author whose work repeatedly confronts hard topics went so very weakly vague and indecisive when it came to homosexuality. Also because the Queer YA blog is kind of cool. In one review, the author writes This traditional problem novel manages to be both gruesome and cookie-cutter, which is quite the succinct indictment.
Toby The Splendid
The Easter Donkey
The Unfrightened Dark
Peaceable - grey 15.2 gelding
Weaver - black and white border collie mix dog
LinksNew York Times obituary