by Joanna Campbell
Original Publication: 1991
I'm not quite sure where the title Wonder's Promise comes from. If it's promising to be persnickety and overly sensitive forever and always, perhaps that's what Joanna Campbell was driving at.
So, here's the cover:
It is remarkably true to the content of the book. Ashleigh spends a lot of time riding Wonder: sometimes on the trails, sometimes on the grass, sometimes on the track! Sometimes she's happy, sometimes she's scared out of her mind, sometimes Wonder is running off riderless...you know, it's all par for the course. I actually love this cover, probably because it actually has some composition to it as opposed to so many of the other covers that really don't seem to have any thought behind them at all.
Ashleigh's dreams are in tatters....
Ashleigh Griffen is thrilled when the owner of the horse farm where she lives puts her favorite horse, Wonder, into training as a Thoroughbred racer. Ashleigh has spent the past year turning the sickly filly into a beautiful, healthy yearling.
Ashleigh knows Wonder could be great, but Wonder dislikes her harsh new trainer. Soon she's bucking and disobeying all his commands. Ashleigh is heartbroken when the trainer says Wonder is untrainable...useless.
Even worse, Wonder doesn't seem to know Ashleigh anymore. One day after Wonder fiercely throws her, Ashleigh becomes afraid of her own horse. Maybe the trainer was right after all-maybe it's time to give up on Wonder....
The summary isn't exactly true to the book. Sure, Wonder throws Ashleigh. But do you think Ashleigh, the one girl in all the greater Lexington area with the ability and courage to turn a sickly foal into a racehorse, is going to let that get her down? Yeah, you guessed correctly. She's actually more upset when her sister starts dating Brad (there's an episode of throwing clothes!), but more on that in a minute.
The main plot is as follows:
Wonder is now a year and four months old. I presume they mean this is her real age (as she was born in May and every Thoroughbred's official birthday is the New Year) because it's the end of summer and yearling training is starting. Wonder is in the last group of yearlings to start training and Ashleigh is both extraordinarily excited about this and freaked out of her mind as, and she is right to assume, she won't have any say or hand in what happens to Wonder in training. Of course, when Wonder does enter training it all heads south from the instant the trainers come to take her from the stall. People manhandle Wonder! And being as delicate and feminine as possible for a horse, Wonder doesn't handle that well and slips into passive-aggressive mode. Thinking the filly is "unpredictable" (as if Thoroughbreds in general aren't flighty and unpredictable), the yearling trainer (the demonized, and apparently dim witted Mr. Jennings) puts her out to pasture and that's that. Except Ashleigh and Charlie retrieve Wonder and work her in secret, righting all the wrongs done to the poor horse and proving everyone wrong in the end. Everyone gapes at them and the victorious parties smile and think about how glorious Wonder's future will be.
The Secondary Plot:
Brad! Oh, that dastardly young man. Second to making sure Wonder becomes a great racehorse is the drive for Ashleigh to make sure she proves Brad wrong. I don't know exactly where that drive is coming from because mostly everyone thinks she and Charlie are crazy for wasting their time on Wonder. But no, it's just Brad she mainly wants to wave at while riding by on her prized Thoroughbred racehorse that only she believed in and he clearly didn't. Then Ashleigh's sister, Caroline, has the nerve to start getting into horses again so she can be closer to Brad and then, shock of all shocks, put herself in the position to start dating Brad. After the two do their version of teenage hooking up that can only happen in children's books, the word "traitor" is thrown around a lot, along with the phrase "Brad says" as Caroline parrots off every snide remark Brad can come up with concerning Ashleigh and Wonder. It is beautiful comedy. If this had been a teen drama on CW I can already see the love triangle forming. Needless to say, Caroline and Brad are still doing whatever they're doing by the end of the book so what's going on there will have to wait until volume 3.
- "Today Caro had pulled one side of her reddish-blond hair up on top of her head, held in place with combs." What is this hairstyle? Who would possibly do this to their hair? I have vague memories of crimped hair and side ponytails from this era, but I'm not sure what's going on here.
- "Reddish-blond hair." Okay, for the life of this author why can't she just say strawberry blond? Reddish-blond and reddish-gold hair has a relatively universally accepted name, damn it.
- Get ready for the best name in this series (possibly ever): Jocko. JOCKO. Who in their right mind names a child Jocko? It's as if his parents knew he'd become a pushy exercise rider with no brain and a penchant for whipping the living daylights out of a horse. Nicely done, Joanna.
- "Hair like a poodle." Here we go with the hairstyles again. I'm trying to picture Ashleigh with poodle hair, but it's not really computing. No wonder none of the boys approached her at the school dance. Poodle hair is hard to overcome.
- Every trainer at Townsend Acres (with the exception of Charlie, but then he doesn't count) has an amazing ability to not think outside the box. It is AMAZING. One would think that trying different things with a horse until something clicks might be a good idea. The Townsend Acres trainers would spit on this idea and then bury it alive.
- There is a lot of giving of speeches in this book. Little, inspirational paragraphs meant to motivate...a horse. Look, I get that Wonder is a character in this series just as much as the next human, but she doesn't know what Ashleigh's saying. Talking to her as if she's a person is not supposed to end with Wonder trying her best in a work out or understanding everything that's going on. It's almost a little maddening. She's a horse! Saying "Oh, Wonder, blah blah auction blah blah do your best for blah blah" should never cause her to really buckle down and do well. And yet it happens. Nearly every time.
- Whips! This is the first book in which the crop is also demonized. I'll have to start counting the books between when a major character uses a crop on a main horse. I'd guess that between now and book 72 it might be, oh, never.
- Brad. Again. I know, I have this unhealthy obsession with Brad, but then so does Ashleigh and I really couldn't help giggling like a maniac when Wonder tossed Ashleigh and Brad is the one who caught her and brought her back and couldn't stop smiling. Then Charlie, of all people, says something along the lines of how Brad's pretty good looking. Oh, Charlie. I don't know why you said that, but it humors me so.