Jun 5, 2008

Otherwise Known as "Melanie's Imbalanced Life," TB#35: Dead Heat

Dead Heat
Alice Leonhardt
Published: 1999

Ugh, another day, and my power's back on, so that must mean it's time for another review of an awful book. I just want to let you know all that after reading this one I literally woke up sick the next day. Coincidence? I think not. I tremble at the thought of what might happen to me when I start reading the books written during Star's racing years. Uck.

Cover: I am very excited to see Kevin and Melanie galloping their Quarter Horses down the fence line wearing what look to be silk blouses. This is another one of those real life photographs that was photoshopped to make it look kind of like an illustration with the faces of small children pasted over the real heads. And the watercolors. Really, how awful.
Galloping head to head...

Melanie Graham is thrilled. She loves exercise riding, and she's good at it, too! Her aunt Ashleigh says Melanie would make a great jockey - she's really thriving at Whitebrook.

But Melanie's not alone. Her friend Kevin McLean also wants to exercise-ride, and soon Melanie an Kevin are galloping together on the Whitebrook track. Racing for fun turns serious as Melanie becomes more and more competitive, testing their friendship to the limit. Kevin thinks Melanie is pushing herself too hard. Will she slow down before it's too late?
Dear god, what is wrong with the punctuation in this blurb? Otherwise, I dunno. I don't have any real complaints because the synopsis is about as boring as the book. I wonder though: do you think the synopses were written before the books, and they were all the authors had to work from? That would explain a lot. Or nothing at all. Anyway, moving on.

Plot: My main problem with this book is...well there are a lot of them. I'll just pick one to start with. I've skipped On the Track, which was where Melanie's character was officially ruined. Melanie has decided she wants to be a jockey and she is going to do everything she can to make that happen. We have never see any other character in TBverse do this ever, so the obsession and subsequent backlash as a result of said obsession is a big surprise to all of us readers.

The book opens with Melanie in school getting yelled at by teachers, classmates, and friends because she's not doing homework. School is a waste of time! There are so many better things to do, like riding! I think Melanie read Arabian Challenge! So after leaving her entire backpack in her locker, Melanie goes home and practices being a jockey by riding a stack of hay bales. Naomi Traeger is there, and she tells Melanie the key to being a successful jockey is to perfect one's balance on horseback. Now remember this, class, balance is important! Kevin comes in to reiterate that balance is important, and he knows because his dad is Ian McLean.

Kevin also gets on Melanie's case for something else. Apparently ever since she came to Whitebrook Melanie has been unable to decide what she wants to focus on. She's jumped from dressage to eventing to ponying and now to being a jockey, and this indecision is intolerable. At this point I wanted to reach through the book and smack Alice Leonhardt, because every book prior to this one has constantly reiterated that Melanie always preferred racing and always wanted to be a jockey, so where did this indecision fake-drama bullshit come from? I mean, really. I know the series is targeted at 8-12 year olds, but don't you think that's insulting their intelligence a little?

So anyway, after this infuriating encounter, Melanie witnesses Kevin and Ian having an argument about basketball camp, which Ian can't pay for and is reluctant to let Kevin attend even if he pays his own way. Gee, I bet this coincidental occurrence will have no bearing at all on the character and plot development of the rest of the book. Kevin storms off and Ian tells Melanie that she should pony Pride's Perfection, the farm's new star two year old (son of Pride's Chance) that had an accident in on the Track and hurt his leg. Because he is the farm's most promising horse, Melanie was the one riding him, of course. And this also means she is the one who is taking care of him. But don't worry, it's okay, it was just an accident that a two-year-old racehorse injured himself while being galloped by a twelve-year-old who's only exercise ridden for...three months? Four?

Yeah. Melanie ponies Perfection around the paddock with Pirate, who despite being blind, recently crazy, and what, three?, is the best pony horse ever. He sure tells Perfection who's boss. Then, because Melanie wants to work on her balance, she saddles up Tribulation and rides him around. But not before Christina jumps a paddock fence on Sterling and gives Melanie the same ridiculous, "you never finish anything speech" that she got from Kevin. After all this doubt Melanie is ready to show these people who is serious about what.

To become a Super Jockey, Melanie knows you have to work Super Hard (unlike Cindy, who farts gold). She comes up with a work out regime to help get her physically fit. This regime, however, also entails not eating ever, because a 12 or 13 year old petite girl really needs to watch her weight. In this book Melanie basically develops an eating disorder that almost kills her and no one says anything about it. I guess it is okay because she is just trying to put in the hard work it takes to do a jockey [okay, I know that should say be a jockey, but I like the typo]. Like destroying all of your internal organs due to malnutrition.

Melanie goes to gallop Heart of Stone, a young horse who's never raced that she just happens to have personally turned into another Wonder Horse. Kevin is at the track reconditioning a four hundred year old horse called Thunderbone or T-Bone, more affectionately, and is acting all huffy about Melanie's success. She is like, "What?" but only for a second because she is too busy sucking up to Samantha and everyone else in sight. I would also like to take this moment to mention that Heart of Stone is nicknamed "Stoney." Really? Really?

Everyone rides to school on the bus and Melanie asks Christina if Kevin's okay and Christina says, "yes Melanie, Kevin still wants to do you," and Melanie says, "That's good but I don't have time to do him because I have to watch Stoney race," and then she goes and fails a test. That weekend, instead of doing Kevin (as ominously foreshadowed in previous pages) she goes to Keeneland or some other Kentucky track, who knows, with Ashleigh and Mike to see Stoney and Leap of Faith race. Stoney, to everyone's incredible surprise, wins. But, and this is a shocker so make sure to swallow whatever you're drinking, a couple at the track offers to buy Stoney and Ashleigh and Mike agree. Holy crap! What? I think I just peed my pants from shock.

You see, horseracing is a business, everyone tells a devastated Melanie. Stoney will be taken care of, and now he's earned his keep. How do they know Stoney will be taken care of? Why, because Ben Cavell, Bentley's sad Charlie replacement/Bagger Vance, will be training Heart of Stone. Fabulous! Melanie mopes but comes to see the wisdom of this decision...I can't believe I typed that sentence, but I did because it is true. Phew.

On the way home from the track it is suddenly revealed that Samantha and Ian have spent their life savings to buy a racehorse. I didn't see it coming either. At some point Melanie will make the connection that this is why Ian couldn't afford to send Kevin to basketball camp, but I don't remember when that happened so I'll just let you all know now.

Samantha and Ian go to get the horse, giving Melanie and Kevin enough time to fight over who is going to be his groom. Mike, who is around for more than one page this book, tells them both they're being whiny childish jerks. I know there are those here who don't like Mike but...he gets about 18 points for this. Who wouldn't want to groom Wind Chaser, though? He has wings and poops diamonds. If Kevin could collect one he could probably pay for his camp, but Melanie is determined not to let that happen and luckily for her Samantha says she can be Wind Chaser's groom.

I forgot to mention that all of Melanie's friends are planning this amazing horse camping trip in the mountains (in Kentucky?) but it doesn't matter because Melanie's not going to go because she will have to be away from exercise riding and Wind Chaser and not eating for more than 15 seconds, and that is not acceptable.

Okay, back to the main plot. Kevin is all mad Melanie is Wind Chaser's groom, but Ian tells him Kevin spends too much time playing basketball to help groom the colt. Man, I like Ian, but he is always the jerk, no matter what. It's just his job - to be the jerk. But that's okay because he never freaking ages.

Melanie tries to console Kevin for about five seconds and then gets distracted because she can help Samantha back Wind Chaser whoopee. To get back at her Kevin decides to like another girl. This is mostly Katie's fault, because apparently Katie is a stupid bitch and pesters Melanie about whether or not she and Kevin are getting along and when Melanie says no she immediately goes and tells "Heather" that Melanie and Kevin are no longer dating but not really dating because they don't have pubes yet and then Kevin asks Heather out. How awful.

What's worse, Melanie gets her report card and she's failing not one, but two classes. Gasp! She figures that she won't be in too much trouble - her dad is used to her failing, and Ashleigh had trouble in school and therefore will be completely understanding. Too bad this only works for Christina, Melanie. Luckily, Melanie is smart enough somewhere in her brain to realize she needs a back-up plan, so she hides the report card. She just can't bear the thought of being grounded from horses and perhaps being forced to eat a carrot.

A bunch of stuff happens with Melanie riding some horses and Wind Chaser getting a little colicky (it's hard on the intestines to poop diamonds) and Melanie lying some more, but Ashleigh finally calls the guidance counselor and finds out about Melanie's grades. She is pissed. No one but Christina is allowed to get away with anything like that, missy. So she calls Melanie's dad and Melanie's dad yells at her, and they agree that Melanie and Ashleigh will work out a schedule they will both sign so that Melanie will have some BALANCE in her life between school, horses, and friends. And oh yeah Melanie, Ashleigh is forcing you to go on the trail ride. With Kevin. Ha ha.

Enter lots of complaining on Melanie's part about the trail ride. They get to the campsite and it's basically shacks with three walls, so Melanie is pretty PO'd about that. So is everyone else, but it was Katie's idea, so why are they surprised? Samantha and Tor are chaperoning, so like good, responsible adults, they stay at the campsite while the children go riding alone in unfamiliar woods unsupervised. Kevin has to turn around because his horse pulls a shoe or something, I don't know. For whatever reason he's not there.

Of course it starts to thunder, lightening, and pour rain the second everyone crosses a bridge that collapses under the weight of the horses. Everyone is trapped on the other side of a gorge except Melanie, who has to turn Trib and ride like hell to find Kevin, because he is the only one who knows how to save them all. Unfortunately, Melanie hasn't eaten in about 73 days so she passes out on the way back to the camp. Luckily Kevin finds her and manages to save the day (he has trail mix!), and they apologize to each other. Kevin admits he was angry about that basketball thing, and Melanie admits she was focusing too much on being a jockey and not enough on her friends. I guess almost dying of starvation alone in the woods will do that to you. It is good Melanie finally found her BALANCE.

Points of Interest:
  • In Melanie's eighth grade English class, the students are learning what conjunctions are and their homework is to combine sentences using said grammatical device. Okay...I know this is Kentucky but, come on.
  • The vet is coming to check the mares in October to see if they're still in foal...at this point I feel like someone at Whitebrook probably would have noticed if a mare had lost a foal, but what do I know.
  • Kevin calls Mike and Ashleigh "softies" for keeping horses like Pirate and Heart of Stone around. Dear god, had Leonhardt been reading the forums?
  • Melanie wants Ashleigh to tell her all about all the horrible accidents she's had at the track because Melanie needs to know about all aspects of being a jockey. This request almost makes Ashleigh go insane. Brilliant.
  • Ben Cavell is described as "a short bald guy with a gut hanging over his belt." WHAT?! First of all, if this is supposed to be a comforting image to Mel, it certainly is not. Secondly, I always pictured Ben appearing to look more like Batman. Maybe that's just me.
  • Wind Chaser is undoubtably a surper horse, and do you know why? He is related to Secretariat. Holy Crap, the magic word.
  • Mr. Wonderful did not win the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, whether or not Ashleigh rode him, and also he has never before been mentioned as one of Whitebrook's "prize stallions." I guess Leonhardt wasn't reading the forums after all.
Okay, the end. What to toture myself with next??


Mara said...

Wow, that description of Ben just absolutely ruins my heroic mental picture of him. And yeah, Batman is much more acceptable. Beer gut...no.

Also, what the hell is up with Alice having Ian spend all or most of his savings on this Wind Chaser horse who I've hardly heard of? Clearly Ian must be immortal, because if he weren't I'd think he should be somewhat worried about retirement and how he and Beth will be living in a box by the time they're 80.

Monique said...

Cindy's Last Hope!!!!! C'mon... please? :D

Anonymous said...

i think i deliberately forgot that description of Ben because it strayed so far from my vision of him. but then again, i thought Charlie was an old, black man for the longest time, despite the many mentions of his sparkling blue eyes.

Molly (formerly anonymous) said...

Holy fucking hell, Ashleigh and Mike actually sold a horse for a REAL reason? Maybe I should bother reading this one after all.

And is it me, or is the obvious barn name for a horse called Heart of Stone "Rocky?" Just me then? Okay.