Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

This hasn't been the most thrilling year for reading nor reviewing books. Few novels this year stand out for me: Paula Hawkins' Girl on the Train is one, and Anton diScalfani's The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls will definitely be another.

I didn't know what I was getting into with this novel. I thought it was a coming-of-age novel, maybe even a light read. I didn't expect this dark, mesmerizing novel of loss, rejection, and perseverance.

Set in the 1930s, the story centers on 15-year-old Thea Atwell, who has done something bad. We don't know what she's done, only that it involved her twin brother and their cousin, who was like another brother to them. As the book opens, Thea is being deposited at Yonahlossee Riding Camp, which is really just a name for a boarding school for rich girls—or, in Thea's case, a home for girls who have been bad. Her parents can't stand to be around her anymore, and sending her off to school seems like the only option.

Thea has never been around anyone besides her family: her parents, brother, aunt, uncle, and cousin. She's never had a girlfriend, never attended a fancy dinner, didn't know the codes between girls or that they even existed. She's thrown from a comfortable home in which she was the beloved only daughter into a world she didn't know existed.

And she loves it. She loves being part of this sisterhood and, most of all, loves that she gets to spend hours and hours each day riding her horse. She also loves that she is the best rider in the school. But Thea has an insatiable need to be loved and to prove that she is a person of value— she needs to reclaim her position as one who is prized. Why did her world fall apart back in Florida? Why did her parents toss her aside like trash?

Flashbacks lead up to the story of  the Big Event that sent The and her family into a downward spiral. As Thea pieces together what she did wrong, she continues on a similar path at the boarding school. Thea is a complex protagonist, bent on self-preservation but mired in self-destructive behavior. She's selfish with flashes of compassion, unstable yet admiring of stability. She's a 15-year-old girl who doesn't know how to contain her passions and enjoys the power she has over men.

While Thea is a strangely likable character is spite of her self-absorption. The novel is graphic and violent at times, but it's incredibly compelling. I stayed up way past my bedtime a couple of nights reading it. If you're in the mood for something complex and a little dark, this is a great choice.

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