Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

Summary: It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer. -- Riverhead

THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS by Anton Disclafani is another book that I read prior to Penguin's Bird Bash at the 2013 BEA. I started in on my train ride up to New York City and I only had about 80 pages left when I arrived in Penn Station. While I was excited to finally be in New York, I was also a bit disappointed because I wanted to see how the novel ended. And I honestly had no idea whether I'd be able to finish the book before the party. (Ididn't -- I had about 50 pages to go but finished it the next morning!)

I have to say that my three hour train ride just flew by because I was so absorbed in THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS (now known as TYRCFG). I admit that I didn't have huge expectations for this novel when I picked it up, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the characters and the writing. I'm still scratching my head that it's Disclafani's debut novel. Having said that, I was quite surprised by how dark certain parts of the novel were. For some reason, I assumed that this book was going to be a light, summer read about girls at a boarding school -- NOT!

TYRCFG takes place in the 1930s and features Thea Atwell, a teenage girl who was sent to a boarding school after she was involved in some sort of controversy. Thea discovers a whole new world at the school where she meets girls from different backgrounds and social structures, and she struggles to not only fit in but also to deal with missing her family and especially her twin brother. She also learns to come to terms with what happened in her past and how to move forward with her life.

I left my description of this novel somewhat vague on purpose because I love that I was surprised by the seriousness of TYRCFG. In fact, I was surprised by a lot of things about this novel. Besides expecting a lighter read, I was also kept guessing by what Thea "did" that was so bad that she was banned from her family. I had a few suspicions and I wasn't entirely wrong; however, I still managed to be shocked by the events and how they ultimately affected Thea and her family. Furthermore, I was caught off guard quite a few times with Thea's behavior at the riding camp.

In all honestly, TYRCFG was a coming-of-age story for Thea and I do appreciate a good coming-of-age story. Thea definitely didn't have an easy time of things, and as a mom, my heart went out to her so many times. She was so confused about her role in her family's problems as well as how to fit in with girls her own age, and I could feel her insecurity and pain in all of her actions. In addition, Thea was confused about her sexuality and truly had no one she could turn to for advice... not to mention that you didn't talk about things like that in the 1930s. It just seemed like the more Thea tried to understand herself and the world around her, the more mistakes she made.

It's pretty obvious by now that I was impressed with Thea's character and how the author developed her and made her so real; however, I also want to rave about Ms. Disclafani's writing. She is so good! I absolutely loved how she told this story -- moving back and forth between the present and the past; and I certainly appreciated how Thea's transgressions were revealed. In addition, I thought the author did a wonderful job of bringing the time period and setting to life. I definitely look forward to more from this very talented writer.

TYRCFG would make a perfect book club selection. There is a reading guide available which touches upon many of the themes I wanted to discuss after reading this novel including sex, love, family, money, class, secrets, home, growing up, self awareness, animals, healing, new beginnings, bravery, expectations, and parent/child relationships. I can promise that Thea is one of the most interesting characters that I've encountered in recent memory, and a talkative group could analyze her actions for hours!

Overall, TYRCFG is a gripping coming-of-age story about a complex young woman. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love how you came up with TYRCFG - because really, who would want to keep retyping that! LOL It's like The Guernsey Potato Peel Whatever.

bermudaonion said...

Now I'm dying to know what Thea did! I'll have to read this book soon.

Beth F said...

Excellent review. Thea was such a complicated character and her choices were not so simply right or wrong. My heart did go out to her.

Stacie said...

This is our next book club read and I now have no worries that we will love it thanks to your review. Sounds like we will have a lot to talk about!

Unknown said...

Wonderful review!! I loved this book. I was enveloped in the time of 1930's and how Thea behaved. I met the author and she was just so kind and,open discussing the book.

Melissa said...

Great review. I've seen this book around lately, i'll have to look into more, sounds interesting.