The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

9781594486401_custom-553d89074bec5dc575e0e9f98f3dc0fdd950a14f-s2The suspense is delicious in Anton DiSclafani’s coming of age tale The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls.  Thea Atwell has been sent away from the family’s Florida orange groves to a girls’ boarding school in the Appalachian hills because of a scandal  that stays secret until the reader is hooked and well into the middle of the book – no spoilers here.

The story moves back and forth from fifteen year old Thea’s new life among a group of girls – the horsey set at an exclusive boarding school – and her old bucolic life with her twin brother Sam, her pony Sasi, and her poor relation, cousin Georgie.  As Thea tries to adjust to her new surroundings among more girls her age than she has ever seen (she’s been home-schooled by her father), DiSclafani teases the reader with flashbacks to a gentler time back on the farm – before teenage hormones took over her life.

DiSclafani sets the story just as the Great Depression begins to affect all those wealthy family with daughters in boarding schools.  As the economy worsens, so do the lives around Thea: her uncle loses his house to foreclosure in Miami; philanthropists stop donating to the boarding school; and some girls are forced back home because their parents no longer can pay the tuition.  The world of debutante dances and the money class is shaken.

Horses play a major role in Thea’s life; her daring and proficient skills place her in the advanced riding class.  At the end of the summer, she stays on; Thea’s parents do not want her to come back home.  Letters from home are scarce – alluding to the incident and its consequences.  Eventually, the secret is revealed, but Thea continues to attract trouble as DiSclafani carefully rounds out her main character as a strong-willed yet vulnerable target, who inadvertently succumbs to feelings while looking for love.

A mix of family secrets and illicit romance, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is not targeted to a younger audience – the sexually explicit scenes would raise the rating to R –  yet NPR’s Mary Pols notes:

“{this} painstakingly constructed ode to a young girl’s sexual awakening — {is} just ladylike enough to be more bodice unbuttoner than bodice ripper… perhaps one of the classier books a young teen would hide under her covers to read with a flashlight.”

A page-turner that kept me riveted…