In this, the second of Pulitzer Prize-winning Jane Smiley’s equine adventure stories for young readers, we return to the California ranch that is home to horsey heroine Abby and her family. And there’s still nowhere that Abby would rather be, despite the new friends she makes in eighth grade. But whilst she loves tending to all nine horses on the farm, she develops a special bond with two of them. With Abby on his back, Black George is turning out to be a natural jumper. And Jack is a gorgeous, spirited foal that she can’t help but adore. But neither is hers to keep. Black George is turning heads at the ring, and Abby knows her father won’t reject a good price for him. Then a letter arrives from a private investigator. Jack, it seems, may be the offspring of a valuable stolen mare. The foal’s identity is a mystery which Abby must help solve.
For so many girls, a horse-mad phase is an integral part of childhood. I never got to go riding, yet I cantered through Ruby Ferguson’s ‘Jill’ stories, along with books by the Pullein-Thompsons. Smiley is their heir apparent, her stories packed with enough authentic equestrian detail to satisfy any young rider, as well as the many who take to the saddle only in their dreams. But there is also an emotional depth and sense of moral dilemma which takes this novel beyond sentimental fodder for the pony-obsessed. Abby must set her growing attachment to the horses against her family’s need to earn a living and to do what is right. Her parents’ strict religious beliefs give an added complexity to the situation. Abby is a thoughtful, appealing heroine and I for one, would love to read more about her, as well as her horses.