Jun 28, 2008

Camp Saddlebrook...a new generation heaven for riding princesses everywhere

Camp Saddlebrook
Thoroughbred #28
by Dale Gasque
Published: 1998

Wasn't it around this book that the call was sounded to officially bring back racing? For some reason I have a memory of Joanna Campbell posting a note to this book's Amazon page way back when indicating something that was supposedly important. She'd consulted Dale Gasque on this book and racing would be back in #32 so we can all rest easy because Joanna's back! Yeah...I remember something along those lines. There was also a rumor that Joanna would write super editions to cover up the "giant gap" and everyone was so excited. Oh, nostalgia.

I don't have much to say about this cover other than I find it interesting how Christina is always portrayed with brown hair when she's pretty much consistently strawberry-blond in these early books. Otherwise this cover is fine. Christina looks like the annoying twelve-year-old she is, so I guess we're good to go.

Will Christina make a new friend at camp--or a new enemy?

Christina Reese is so excited. She's going away to riding camp for three whole weeks! Christina is sure it will be a blast--until she meets Eliza.

Eliza can't stand Christina's, just because her parents own a famous racing barn. She tells all the other campers that Christina is spoiled and stuck-up. But then Christina discovers a secret Eliza has been hiding--something Eliza is desperate to keep the other riders from finding out.

Christina knows she should keep quiet. But it's hard not to tell the truth about a girl who lies....

This blurb twists the truth a little (ironically) into something akin to Eliza entrusting Christina with her horrible, horrible secret and Christina, having had enough this, is implied as wondering if she should keep the secret because she's done being nice. Honestly, the blurb is more in line with what we know about Christina already (that she's typically annoying and hates taking criticism of any kind), but unfortunately it doesn't mesh with the actual plot of the book. So...we'll just get to the plot.


Welcome to Camp Saddlebrook, where all your dreams come true! At least, if you're a riding princess. If you're not, you're wasting your time. Seriously. Just pack up and go. Thankfully Christina and Melanie qualify, so Joe the Groom takes them to camp. Immediately Christina is met with animosity, because being taken to camp not by your parents but by one of their employees is seen as rich riding princess behavior (as if the rest of the campers somehow aren't of the same ilk). Somehow Mel gets out of this, and Christina takes the brunt of all the pissiness, generally from Eliza. Everything Christina says is construed as her being all privileged, right down to accidentally informing dear Eliza that Sterling is only four. Holy crap, the horses at Camp Saddlebrook have to be at least five, therefore rules are being bent! Eliza, being a strict rule-follower, doesn't like this at all. Christina, unable to reply to this, tries to go out of her way to be nice to Eliza because they're in the same riding group (thus living in the same room and stabled next to each other) and gets nowhere fast.

So, this book spends a lot of time on camp life at Saddlebrook. There's this detailed explanation of this point system I will not even begin to describe because it was so boring. One thing I will say: if you want to feel like you're twelve again and at camp (even if you never went to a riding camp, which I surely didn't), this is your book. The most remarkable thing about riding classes at Camp Saddlebrook is the instructors seem to actually know what they're talking about and Christina, delicate riding princess that she is, doesn't cry and mope and complain when she's criticized. In fact, she feels she's learning things and quickly becomes happy in her novice class, which...just...totally not expected.

Anyway, so camp life continues. Only then Sterling tries to eat Eliza's reins, resulting in some more dramatics. Christina attempts to right things by being extra nice and goes down to the tack store to replace said reins. At first, Eliza softens up a little, but when she discovers that Christina bought some poster of a horseback riding god (I can't remember the guy's name...he's probably real for all I know) for their room Eliza freaks out about how it must be sooo nice to buy whatever you want whenever you want to.

Then we get a little bit of screen time with Dylan, who's off in another riding group and not subject to Christina's issues all the time. Instead he's got to deal with Rachel, who is trying to throw herself at him as if doing this repeatedly will somehow gain his undying affections. (Rachel's horse is named Naughty Nymph, by the way. So Christina has her work cut out for her.) However, instead of inviting Rachel to sit next to him at the upcoming fireworks display, Dylan asks Christina instead. So yay, joy, and all of that. Only by the time she goes to the fireworks show Christina is all demoralized because Eliza is pissing her off and she feels the need to sulk by herself. This leads to her going back to the barn alone, where apparently no one else is, and discovers that Flash is colicking. In true Thoroughbred heroine form, Christina saves Flash and injures herself and thereby gains Eliza's complete trust and friendship enough to find out Eliza's horrible secret: Flash is not actually Eliza's! She, like, owns an old horse she can't jump anymore! And she can't afford to buy Flash because her dad lost his job. So Christina and Melanie go into full out buy Eliza a horse mode, convincing Melanie's father to send a band down to the farm so they can raise money for Eliza. In a matter of about four days. I seriously don't know about that, but anyway.

Christina and Melanie keep Eliza's super special secret until it becomes obvious to the world that Flash is owned by someone else when the owner shows up with a series of interested buyers. Then everyone knows and shares in Eliza's emotional journey to getting what she wants. Interestingly enough, no one ever says anything about selling Eliza's old horse, because for all we know once the old horse leaves Eliza's care he'll probably be abused and then sent to slaughter. Because only the horses owned by our fantastical Thoroughbred characters are treated well.

Anyway, so the show is a success and Dylan dances with Christina and then Dylan kisses Christina. Twice. Oh, hot twelve-year-old love. Then we discover that the show made enough money to buy Flash for Eliza, only then the head person of the camp tells them they can't use the money for Flash because the show was set up as a charity for some young riders something or another. And Melanie immediately loses it and bangs herself repeatedly against a wall. Shocked by her cousin's outburst, Christina immediately goes into we can fix anything! mode and asks if there's no way for Eliza to get a loan. Yeah, because we all need to have a lot of debt by the time we're fifteen. So Camp Saddlebrook buys Flash for Eliza and sets up a loan and Eliza will get to be an instructor next year to help pay off her new debt. Christina has fixed everything, and got the guy without doing much hard work, which means this book is over.


  • Christina was uncomfortable with the boyfriend-girlfriend thing and didn't think of him [Dylan] that way. What? Since when?
  • Jennifer is a size one and looks like she stepped out of a Delia's catalog. Delia's in 1998, anyway.
  • Great. I hope I don't have to pee in the middle of the night. I only mention this because I think it's the first time our beloved main characters have mentioned bodily functions of any kind. As it turns out, this book is obsessed with bodily functions. Even those of horses! The reality...it's too much!
  • Eliza informs Christina that she's been working with her horse, Flash, in training level this summer. Christina literally thinks to herself that "training level didn't sound too advanced" like she wasn't bitching and complaining that she wasn't moving up to training level during the whole of Sterling's Second Chance.
  • Christina has wavy hair and Melanie has straight hair. I never once thought of Chris with wavy hair...probably because I have a feeling this is the one and only time it's ever mentioned.
  • The kids watch a video of the 1996 Badminton Horse Trials. I can't recall quite, but is this the first mention of a date in the Thoroughbred series?
  • Everyone is very touchy-feely in this book. They're constantly touching, whether they're sitting too close, shoving each other around, tackling someone, using someone as a cushion...and Melanie even put her foot on Eliza's butt. I guess this is kid behavior, because it all came with giggling and throwing food. It's just that it was very out of character for the Thoroughbred Series. Our characters don't have immature fun! They are serious and work hard and are rich but not! Somehow!
Ending this installment, I will make the point of saying this was a lot better than the other early New Generation books. There wasn't a whole lot to sit and gape at in silent astonishment, so I guess that means it's the most solid of the bunch in these early goings. Unfortunately, the constant shifts in characteristics that Christina has suffered through with each author make her seem completely unstable. Although that may be because she's just unstable in general.


Molly (formerly anonymous) said...

I really liked these books when I was younger. I haven't read them in ages, but it was nice that someone hated Christina for once - and that someone was also a better rider!

I thought Christina was a huge bitch when she complained about being in the same riding group as Melanie. Get over yourself.

Claire said...

i recently reread this book too and was surprised at how much i liked it, and even christina. it's probably the best eventing book besides racing parker and, guess what, they're written by the same author! if the books could have continued at this quality...it would probably have been better if at least christina had stuck with eventing. but oh well.

Mara said...

I think Dale Gasque definitely had the most potential of all the New Gen authors. Allison Estes had her brief moments, but Alice Leonhardt was the one that really needed a swift kick to the head. Since she was kept on there was no way the quality was going to stay steady. She just sucked in general. Lucky for me I have an Alice book coming up! :D

sundae-mourning said...

this is definitely one of my favorite NG books. plus, Sterling looks so pretty on the cover, though she looks like she was copied exactly from a photo i've seen before, but can't remember where i saw it.