Looks promising, doesn't it? A girl, a horse, waves. And to be accurate, there are horses in the plot.
13-year-old Alyssa lost her parents to a hurricane when she was ten, and has been mute ever since. She can't even tell her beloved grandfather that she would really rather he not sell their small riding stable on the Gulf Coast and send her to live with her disapproving aunt Melinda. Despite the presence of several factors I can't stand - including a harpy aunt with a saintly husband, a heroine presented as an eternal and pretty victim, and a male relative with a bit o' dialect from t'old country - it's a well-written book. Just not a horse book.
The most famous horse-book-that-isn't has to be The Red Pony, Steinbeck's bloody Valentine for the pony set.
In writing this blog, I've been flexible in my definition of 'pony book,' largely because the genre as traditionally defined is a small, starved portion of American children's books. We just do not have many books about adolescent girls riding in gymkhanas. So I've been easy-going, as if you haven't noticed. My guideline has been, if it whinnies or brays, it can go in. And I'm a sucker for illustration, so I've included picture books, and then I'm still recovering from a childhood of Walter Farley and C.W. Anderson so a disproportionate amount of racing posts have snuck in. So where does the line go for 'horse book' and 'not-a-horse-book'?
I'd say it goes between books which treat the horse as a symbol (of girlish childhood, of freedom, etc.) and those that treat them as actual horses. I suppose the former isn't terribly unreasonable. Though it remains a mystery to me, there are a lot of people who grew up around horses and essentially thought of them as if they were bikes; fun, somewhat useful, a nice thing to have, if you're a good person you take good care of it, but nothing to get all excited about.
Though, when you cut it like that, was National Velvet a horse book? Was My Friend Flicka? Both focused on their dreamy heroes and to a large extent the horses, although they took a satisfying chunk of center stage, were symbols of dreams and growth. Can a book that attempts to be more than genre writing be a horse book, or are horse books, a mini-genre themselves, too simplistic?
What do you think?