Posted in Animal Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Equestrian YA: Finny and the Boy from Horse Mountain

finnyFinny and the Boy from Horse Mountain, by Andrea Young (Feb. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781634501668
Originally published in hardcover by Sky Pony in 2013

Recommended for ages 12+

Fifteen year-old Finny loves horses – so much, that she adopts an emaciated, unbroken horse without telling her parents, and boards him at a rescue next door to the school where she works in trade for riding and jumping lessons. Joe, a 16 year-old orphan on the run from his abusive uncle, encounters Finny after he winds up at the ranch school. Finny’s heart immediately goes out to the scared, injured teen and she helps him out by giving him food, a temporary place to stay, and medical attention. In turn, Joe – an accomplished horse trainer – helps Finny break and train Sky, who’s wilder than either teen could have imagined.

Finny and the Boy from Horse Mountain is a YA romance set against a backstory of competitive equestrian shows. There’s an emphasis on the high-stakes money and egos that take center stage in this sport: there’s Elsa, a wealthy teen whose father’s money bankrolls the training school; Jeff, who runs the school and looks the other way for a lot of things, as long as his big-money students are happy; Joe’s uncle, a cruel man who will do anything if the price is right. Andrea Young, a national award-winning U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Certified Trainer, writes with enough detail to excite horse aficionados and enlighten those of us whose main experience on a horse would be the pony ride on a childhood ranch trip, making us all want to get on a horse and feel that breeze on our faces and the thrill of a jump. She gives Sky his own distinctive personality and creates a loving bond between horse and girl, and horse and trainer. All of her characters – even minor ones that show up here and there – are thought out and developed nicely. The end of the novel could lead to future adventures for Joe and Finny (this is the first in a planned trilogy), and I would love to see Vel, the woman who runs the rescue ranch, show up in the future.

Horse books are big with tween and teen girls. They are! I mentioned this book to my son’s girlfriend (age 16) last night and she said, “I read books like that! I loved those books! Can I read it when you’re done?” This one is going to be an easy booktalk to tweens and teens who love horse fiction, animal fiction, and romance. The romance is slow-burn, fraught with crossed communication and dangerous situations, but love does conquer all. It’s a clean book, for my more conservative readers, so I can display and booktalk this with proper romance books, like the books put out by Shadow Mountain, and I can talk this up with readers who have read Black Beauty and are looking to move to something a little older. For my equestrian fans, I can put this next to Georgina Bloomberg’s A Circuit series and Jane Smiley’s Horses of Oak Valley Ranch series.

A good addition to YA romance where equestrian books are also popular.

There’s an excerpt available at Andrea Young’s author website. I’ve featured a little bit below:

With a solid bang the doors slammed shut. The bus rumbled away leaving young Finny in a cloud of grey dust and choking exhaust. Having never been this far from home Finny took a long look at the desolate surroundings. Two things crossed her mind. One, this was where “out in the middle of nowhere” was and two, if her mom found out what she was doing, she was so dead.

Typical for a California summer the temperature was over a hundred and Finny was beginning to sweat. Not from the heat and not because she lied to her mom, plain and simple, she was scared. After a deep breath to steady her nerves, she started walking.

Crazy Chester was leaning against his rotting wood porch when Finny came down the dirt drive. His horse Sky, soon to be hers, stood quietly by his side. Finny was afraid of Crazy Chester. All the kids were; his name scared them off, which probably was the point.

Chester turned away to hide the tears in his eyes when he handed Finny the lead. “He’s got the blood of champions running through him girl, remember that.” Geez he’s old Finny thought. She wasn’t sure how old, somewhere near a hundred was her guess but she wasn’t that good at aging old people. The old man patted the horse’s neck. He didn’t want to give up his horse, or his home. But like his horse, Chester was thin, malnourished and neglected. His house, little more than a shack was falling down. The county intervened, then finally his family. He didn’t seem crazy to Finny now, and it broke her heart to see him cry. She didn’t think really old people cried. Thought they had life so figured out nothing made them sad anymore.

I promise I’ll give him a super good home. I work at a ranch, I know all about horses and how to take care of them.”

“That’s good girl. I know you’d treat him right, could tell soon as I saw ya.” Finny told Chester her name was Josephine or Finny for short, but he called her girl anyway.

“His father was blazing fast girl, blazing fast, unbeatable on the track, set to be the next Seabiscuit, no question about it.” Finny watched Chester grow young as he spoke, “His first race…won by three lengths, second race, seven, by the third people were showing up just to see him. I had the jockey hold him back, didn’t want everyone to know what we had. That’s strategy girl. It’s not just fast horses that win races.” He tapped his crooked finger to his temple. “You gotta be smart. Sky’s father won that race by four lengths, jockey said he wasn’t even trying.” Chester’s young eyes dimmed. “The fifth was the end, I’d like to think it wasn’t by a man’s hand and it was an act of god but I’ll never know for sure. When a ‘one in a million’ horse shows up, it gets some people nervous. Throws things out of kilter. Suddenly what was a great horse no longer measures up.” Chester gave a small sad shake of his head. His faraway look still deeply vested in the past. “Bell rang and the gate stuck half open. All thousand pounds of him crashed into it. The horse jammed half through then thrashed and fought to get loose. The jockey thankfully was able to jump clear but the horse in a panic, flipped. By the time we got the gate opened and him free, it was too late, his leg was broke.” Chester took a deep breath, then a handkerchief from his pocket and dried his eyes. “Saddest day of my life. Doc said there was nothing they could do…a part of me died with him that day.” Finny’s eyes were stinging hot trying hard not to cry when Chester looked her way. 

“Sorry girl, got lost in the past, just wanted to let you know about your horse and where he’s from.”

“Please tell me everything if you don’t mind.” The moment Finny laid eyes on the horse her heart went out to him. He carried a regal-ness that defied his pitiful condition.

“Not at all girl, not at all.” Chester cleared his throat and readjusted his thin backside on the porch. “So, that was the end of an era for my wife and me, God rest her. I’d planned after a few years of racing to retire him to stud. He could pass on his lightning speed and we could sit back and collect the stud fees but of course that never happened… Well, we didn’t know it happened. Turned out the little rascal, not even three years old jumped the fence into the neighbor’s pasture. This neighbor had champion warmblood jumping horses. I’m talking world cup horses, best you can get. The next morning the groom found him and walked him over and put him back in our corral. He didn’t know my horse wasn’t a gelding so he never mentioned a thing to anyone. But as months passed my neighbor noticed his most prized horse, his world-cup winning mare, kept gaining weight. Sick with worry he had the vet out checking for this and that only to find out she’s pregnant.” A big crooked smile crossed Chester’s face making Finny smile too.“So, he calls me up and after talking to the groom we figured out what happened. I tell you girl, he was beyond mad. If steam could come outta ears he would’ve been doing it then. His warmblood that was scheduled to fly to Europe to compete in the Olympic trials, had to stay home to have a thoroughbred’s baby.” Chester slapped his thigh and laughed like it happened yesterday. “I was thrilled to have a part of my great horse alive but as a thoroughbred-warmblood cross he’d never race and my neighbor only had purebred warmbloods. He had no use for a cross but I didn’t care. When Sky was weaned, the groom brought him here and he’s been with me ever since.”

“Wow, that’s amazing.” Finny, awed by the story, traced her fingers lightly down the horse’s soulful face. Kind, intelligent eyes looked back at her. “I understand why you think he’s destined to be a champion.”

“It’s not just his mom and pop girl, this horse is all heart, all heart.” Chester began to choke up again. Finny tried to steer him back to things positive.
pace “So how long have you had him, I mean, how old is he?”

“Gosh, going on twelve by now.”

“Oh, that’s not too old. How is he to ride?”

“Don’t know, never broke him. By the time he was old enough, my wife had passed, I’d gotten sick and next thing I know my kids are making me move into some concentration camp they’re passing off as a retirement village.” Chester gave a pained chuckle at his statement, not bitter, just resolved.


“It’s okay, girl, I’m glad Sky here has someone now who can get him trained up. He’d never run but I bet like his momma he could jump and if he has half the speed of his papa he’d be unbeatable.”

“Thanks Chester, thanks for letting me have him, I won’t let you down.”

“I asked at the feed store about you, they told me you’d treat him right and that’s what matters to me.”

“I will, I promise.”

“Okay girl…good luck. Sky, prove me right.” Chester gave Sky his final pat, then climbed the stairs to his porch. After one backward glance he walked into his house.

As hard as it was on Chester she needed to get Sky gone as fast as she could. When they got to the road and turned the corner the horse stopped and looked back. It occurred to her that at twelve years old, since he wasn’t broke and Chester was elderly, this most likely was the first time he’d ever left the property. Finny stroked his face then pulled again urging him to follow. Other than not wanting to go he wasn’t fighting her.

Finny gave Sky a more objective once over. He was very tall, over seventeen hands, dark bay without a white mark on him. He was also painfully thin, had several bald patches across his back and hindquarters and a huge solid knot for a tail. Sky, still looking toward his home nickered softly breaking Finny’s heart. She knew taking him was for the best but Chester was all he’d known and she was sure Sky had loved him. A few gentle tugs got him moving again. It was getting late. The original plan was to ride him home. At a trot or gallop the eleven miles could be made in an hour or so. Finny hadn’t known Sky wasn’t broke and in such bad shape. At the rate they were moving, it’d be long after dark before they got home. It was unlikely her mom would be mad if she were late. Probably wouldn’t notice. Finny’s twin half sisters, just four, kept her busy.

Sky tugged at Finny’s arm. She found he was like a huge baby seeing the world for the first time. He wasn’t afraid of the new things around him. If he saw something interesting he pulled her to it. Finny was quickly falling in love.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Only Girl in School is no shrinking violet!

only girl in schoolThe Only Girl in School, by Natalie Standiford/Illustrations by Nathan Durfee (Jan. 2016, Scholastic Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780545829960

Recommended for ages 9-12

Claire’s best friend, Bess, moves away just before the start of fifth grade, leaving her the only girl in her entire elementary school. To make matters worse, her other best friend, Henry, has just decided to stop talking to her, and replaced her with Webby (aka Webster), a colossal jerk! How is Claire going to get through this school year?

Told in letters from Claire to Bess, The Only Girl in School is a quick, fun read about growing up, friendship, and the hunt for pirate treasure. Claire is a funny and sympathetic protagonist, whether she’s lamenting the loss of the girl’s locker room, now the coach’s private office (“he probably likes having an office with his own shower in it”) or asking “Yucky” Gilbert – who has a tremendous crush on her – to crew for her for the upcoming boat race (“…the first and most important rule is: No Slobbering”). It’s a story about change: friendships change; being on the verge of leaving elementary school for middle school; and approaching the way boys and girls see one another. It’s also about how adults may treat boys versus girls, especially when there’s only one girl in an entire school: when there’s only one female voice, injustices, no matter how seemingly small, are overlooked a lot more easily, whether it’s removing a locker room where Claire can change or ignoring aggressive and chauvinistic behavior on a soccer field.

I like Claire: she’s smart, she’s athletic, and she’s spunky. She calls out unfair attitudes and behavior when she sees and experiences it, even if it’s happening in her own dining room. She isn’t going to let anyone get to her or make her feel badly for being the only girl in her school. She misses her best friends, but she doesn’t mope around school. She draws pictures on the wall in her “clubhouse” at school to journal her feelings but when her sanctum is invaded by someone who’s defacing her pictures, she takes it upon herself to act and launches an investigation. She’s a fun heroine, and the fact that she can inject snarky humor into her story should resonate with tweens.

The Only Girl in School is a fun middle-grade read and open the doors for interesting discussions about gender relations. Ask boys and girls alike to read it, and see what the different feedback sounds like. Read along with The Last Boy at St. Edith’s and compare the two main characters’ situations!