By Karle Dickerson
First Printing: January 1993
Re-printed as Ashleigh’s Thoroughbred Collection: July 1998
Ok, I admit it; I can’t read this book without bawling like a baby. I actually get teary-eyed just looking at the cover so I had it hidden on the bookshelf behind my Thoroughbred books. It’s just laden with sorrow and loss and those horrible things you never want to accept – like the death of a beloved horse that just breaks your heart, and it feels like the world will end. And I know, I’ve been there, done that. But in the end, there’s hope, there’s redemption, and there’s a future. So props to Karle Dickerson on a masterful read, it moves me each and every time. And when a book does that, it’s good. Sure, it’s not a classic like “A Tale of Two Cities” or “Oliver Twist” but hey, every book’s got a story, and this one just happens to be good.
It’s really quite adorable; a little long-legged black filly standing out in the gently falling rain while there’s some action in the background. It’s hard to find any fault with the cover; although I could swear on a stack of bibles that I’ve seen a photograph of a foal in the exact same pose – minus the rain and such. Plus, Southern Californian barns are much more modern than the classic red and white barn; they have those back east, but out here, you’ll find the pre-fabricated modular barns. But hey, how can anyone really argue with the cover, it just shows a little filly forgotten out in the rain. It fits!
Ye Olde Summary:
OK, OK … cheesy summary plot, but it gets right to the meat of the story. Girl loves mare, mare loves girl. Girl decides to breed mare, mare dies after foaling. Girl resents orphaned foal, and skimps on her care. But then filly does something that changes girl’s mind, and voila, instant OMG EXPLODING HEARTS AND STARS!!! Gotta admit it, whoever wrote the summary was spot on; it follows the book pretty damn well.Joelle hates her new filly...
Joelle has a very special relationship with her Thoroughbred mare, Dance Away. Then Dancer dies giving birth to her first foal, and Joelle swears that no horse, not even Dancer's filly, will ever replace Dancer in her heart. But Joelle's parents insist she take care if the orphaned filly--it needs her help to survive.
Joelle does as little as she can to groom and train the foal. All she can think about is Dancer--that they won't be riding together in the big fall show where Joelle was sure they'd win a trophy. Joelle's convinced that Dancer's filly will never be a winner like her mother.
Then something happens that will make Joelle change her mind forever...
The Big Picture Plots:
Dance Away (.a.k.a Dancer): She’s this gorgeous black Thoroughbred mare that Joelle loves and loves with all her heart. And Dance Away loves Joelle back and it’s like the bestest bond in the whole wide world because they win big ribbons and jump and hang out together. And then Joelle wants to breed Dancer, and Dancer has trouble and has to be put down, so her loss figures prominently through the whole book. Joelle sighs, and cries, and mopes over her loss. And ignores the foal because she doesn’t want to have anything to do with her.
Jeff: He’s Joelle’s little brother, who was partially paralyzed after falling out of a tree so he has to stay in a wheelchair and get physical therapy which he hates. Part of the story really centers around him, and what happened and how it’s affected the family (and Joelle) and his part in the story has to do with the healing power of horses, and how much he loves Dancer’s filly, and the miracle she performed to save him.
Devin Butler: He’s the vet’s son. And he’s kind of a jerk. He’s sort of the male antagonist of Joelle the way Brad is to Ashleigh, but apparently Devin has a reason for being a jerk; his older sister was killed in a car crash so he started acting like an asshole to get away from the pain of missing her. But then, he turns away from the ‘dark side’ and starts acting good, and whoo! – not an asshole anymore. Fortunately for readers of the book, there’s no lovesick looks from girl to boy, and vice versa; they seem to be just ‘friends’ which is good considering they’re tweenies anyway. Plenty of time later for groping and kissing and that sort of thing. But then again, Joelle seems to be horse-mad, and horses kind of take precedence over boys a lot (dirty joke is … horses give you the better ride, har har) and Devin rides horses (which actually any smart boy who wants to get in with the girls will do … look at it this way – tons of girls, not very many boys, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.) But then, I liked Devin, jerk or not. My brother’s name is Devin. I have an excuse.
Midnight Dancer (a.k.a. Foal, a.k.a. Weanling, a.k.a. Midnight): Whoo, what a doozy Joelle put that poor baby through. Didn’t even give her a proper name until the last page of the book because of how much she resented the foal for Dancer’s death. Which certainly wasn’t the foal’s fault – but Joelle carried a chip on her shoulder for an awful long time. But the filly really shows heart, and saves Jeff’s life, which leads to Joelle loving her. I thought Joelle was a jerk for treating the foal the way she did when I first read the book, and it sure didn’t change with this reading. The story definitely tugs at the emotions, and it was easy to see how the foal responded to Joelle’s lack of caring compared to Jeff’s love, or anyone else’s.
Some Key Points of Interest:
- Death is really a recurring theme in this book, first Devin’s older sister Valerie gets killed in a car crash, and then Dance Away hemorrhages and they have to put her down. But I’m not going to complain; it was nice to read a book that wasn’t all sunshine and roses and magikal Gypsy Vanner butterfly farts. It didn’t dwell on death and the sucktasticness of life, but rather faced reality, and the fact that one has to move on after a loss, and keep making life worth living for.
- Dancer neighs softly after her foal is born. Now, granted, I've read that mares really do this, because it accustoms the foal to the sound of it's mother's voice, but Joelle in her youthful happiness interprets this nicker as "See? I did it!" This is not the only time a horse neighs or nickers or makes some kind of motion that indicates agreement.
- I have to admit, I simply love the names that the horses in this book are given. Devin’s two horses are named Blade Runner and Megaton. I think offhand, a better name for the second horse probably should have been Megatron (yeah, unsubtle Transformer reference there), but they’re horse names that boys like. I like names like Soldier, and Valor, and Trilogy and Great Caesar’s Ghost. They’re cool horse names, but nothing stupid like Rainbow or Four Leaf Clover or pretentious like Wonder’s Champion. Just normal every day horse names, without sounding too unrealistic. But hey, I had a Flair, and have a Mitch, so maybe that’s what endeared me to these horse names.
- After Dancer dies, Joelle makes like a tornado and rearranges her room up to and including: throwing her model horses in the closet along with Dancer's bridle, and putting away her ribbons. I always thought it was kind of strange when I read the book that she would completely de-equine her room like that, and then well ... I lost Flair, and did something similar. My ribbons are in my closet still (although I have the excuse that I'm redecorating -- they'll be out again soon enough.)
- I love the Latham family. Dad, Mom, sister, brother – they’re just cool and together in the face of adversity and sorrow, and work together to make their riding academy business work. Kind of reminds me of my Pony Club instructor and his wife and daughter – before the sordid affair with the assistant instructor and divorce, of course. The chapter where the Lathams are out on the lake in a rowboat is wonderful. Very family-like, which kind of shows how much they really do care about each other. Even in the middle of a horse book, the author took time out to throw the family on a little non-equine-related side trip, which added to the story.
- Can I just say how happy I am with the Pony Love in this book? Bluebell is an adorable and mischievous Welsh pony who helps Jeff in his therapeutic riding. And everyone loves him. Hooray for ponies!
- There’s some apparent rivalry between Windswept Riding Academy and the swankier Oak Meadows Riding Club where apparently all the snobs ride. Even Devin rode there. That is, until he switched to riding at Windswept, and became part of the Cool Kids Club™ But it's like Oak Meadows is like Townsend Acres or something, and Windswept is Whitebrook Farm
- OK, it’s incredibly cheesy, and sort of falls under the “Mother lifts car to save child” cliché, but Midnight pulls Jeff out of the flooded creek. The only thing I’d have to gripe about that is, I’d guess he was holding the lead rope, which was attached to the halter on the filly’s head. Dude, there’s ‘aint no way a horse is going to pull against that kind of weight with their head. But she does it, and yay, she pulls him out, and he’s OK! She’s a wonderhoss!
- Dr. Butler is a wise wise man with his lecture on nature, and the pitfalls of horse breeding. ‘Nuff said.