Jun 11, 2008

Were we expecting The Wild Mustang to act wild?

The Wild Mustang
by Joanna Campbell
Published: 1989

I'm headed back into Joanna Campbell's pre-Thoroughbred era before I delve into the backlog of books waiting on me. So we're trooping back into the '80s with The Wild Mustang. Aren't you thrilled? I know I am.

This cover just screams The Black Stallion meets The Phantom Stallion meets My Friend Flicka meets denim-clad Cindy McLean. Which probably means that me and this book should be parting paths pretty soon because if I see one more 12-year-old blond girl in denim I am not going to be pleasant to be around. Here we've got this kid named Tracy, who has that gleeful window-shopping look about her. That "I simply must have this or I will scream so loud you will appease me with promises you can't follow through with to get me to shut up!" look. We all know that look, and it's making me nervous. Anyway, the horse is going through a serious case of wind blown hair, which is just so romantic and beautiful and would be just fine if Tracy's hair was doing something at all similar. Which it isn't.

Could Tracy ever give up Whitestar?

Twelve-year-old Tracy Jordan loves exploring the lands around her family's Wyoming sheep ranch. It's always a thrill when she spots a herd of wild mustangs grazing in the mountain meadows. Tracy wishes with all her heart that she could have a horse of her very own. But for some reason, her father seems to hate all horses, especially mustangs.

One day Tracy and her brother Colin rescue an injured black mustang near their home. Tracy is determined to keep the mustang, which she names Whitestar, until he has healed, but she knows that her father will be furious if he finds out what she's done.

When Whitestar's hiding place is discovered, Tracy is frantic. She knows that the only way to save the mustang is to set him free--but will she have the courage to say goodbye to her dream horse?

I'm not going to take issue with this blurb, other than the name Tracy Jordan annoys the hell out of me because from this moment on I'm going to think 30 Rock every time her name is mentioned.

Plot:

Little Tracy Jordan (who is not a highly medicated, fictional actor living in New York, but a small, blond girl living in Wyoming and who probably has no sense of humor) lives on a sheep ranch and she loves horses. Unfortunately for her, her father keeps insisting on sticking any wild horse he sees on a trailer and sends it to slaughter...which I am under the impression has been illegal since 1971, so in theory all little Tracy would have to do is call the BLM and they'd come out and probably ruin her livelihood because her father is a moron. In fact, her father hates all horses because of something that happened once, long ago ($10 says his wife was trampled and killed by a wild horse) and Tracy is not satisfied with his vague answer. So it is decreed that no horse shall live on Tracy's farm, and instead we'll all just get around in Jeeps and waste as much gas as humanly possible. Yes, JEEPS.

So the deal here is that Tracy and her little brother, Colin, go out every day to foil her father's plans to keep his sheep safe. They find all the traps that have been set out for the coyotes, springing them or removing poisoned meat, and spook any mustangs off the property before they can be illegally transported for slaughter. They're out doing this one day when they discover a horse has stepped into one of the traps, catching its leg. In an inspired attempt to free the animal, Caitlin somehow finds herself without a hoof to the forehead and a new horse at the end of a rope. Because all horses in Joanna Campbell's world are at least halfway tame, even if they've been "wild" their entire lives, and know instinctively to respond in gentle fashion to children offering apples. Since they can't take this injured horse back to the ranch, Tracy decides to take it to the old hermit's cabin in the woods, where no one ever goes, and she'll get a few bales of hay or whatever, which no one should miss. Sound familiar, anyone?

After about two weeks of caring for this horse, the wound is scabbed over and you'd think they could release Whitestar, but they don't. Tracy begins to recognize a special bond with the horse and begins to wonder if his super magical awesomeness is because he's got a little bit of thoroughbred in him, because thoroughbreds are the prettiest horses on earth it's not good enough for Whitestar to simply look like a mustang. Then Jason pops up. Jason would be Tracy's super hot snub-nosed, twelve-year-old love interest if Tracy was extremely bored and if they were older than twelve. Jason likes Tracy despite her braces and because she isn't like other girls. She is driven and humorless and Jason just can't get enough of it. So he promises to keep her secret and give her some supplies from his father's stables in exchange for a few favorable glances in his direction. Tracy is not without her feminine wiles, after all.

Eventually we get to summer and the three kids have sort of started to train the horse to accept a saddle and a bridle, and they're learning to ride at Jason's ranch. Then Tracy and Colin have to go to the dentist, which is the outing that is the secret's undoing. The ranch hands find Whitestar and drag him up to the ranch, where he's to await transportation to slaughter. Oooh, drama! Tracy and Colin immediately degenerate into tears, their father screams a lot about horses being worthless and nothing better than dog food, and unfortunately he can't get a hauler there fast enough to take the animal away. This leaves Tracy a two day window to do something, which includes more crying and screaming and melodrama.

It is finally revealed that Tracy's grandfather was killed by a wild stallion while he and her father were trying to break it to saddle. Tracy's dad went into a rage after watching his father be trampled to death, and decided to take out his anger first on the stallion and then on every horse after that. I was so betting on the wife, who died of an accident also. Well, I feel cheated. Anyway, Tracy can't stand it anymore because no matter how much she proves that Whitestar is a good stallion, her dad just starts screaming whenever he sees her try to touch the horse. Seriously, her dad needs get over it. Luckily for us he does, only too late. In classic fashion, he decides he's a giant asshole just after Tracy makes off with Whitestar and releases him to freedom. So the book ends at 2am in the middle of a meadow, Tracy all forlorn and her dad all "I'll get you any horse you want, and maybe Whitestar will come back, sweetie!" and she's all, "Yeah, screw you." You can just tell their relationship is fucked, and she'll have plenty of horses, but will need lots of future therapy.

Oddities:

  • He lifted his injured leg as if it pained him. No kidding. Really? Who ever thought an injury might actually be painful?
  • I don't think the words "tiny" and "wing" together with "ranch house" work very well. Am I supposed to believe these people are moderately wealthy and that their daughter occupies a wing of the house, or is wing supposed to be synonymous with room? Because it's not the same.
  • Tracy's friend has a horse, and just guess what its name is. Guess. I'll put it in white inside parentheses just for added shock value. (Cindy.)
  • Whitestar prances, which is supposed to remind Tracy that he is, after all, a wild horse. Let me tell you, there is nothing more threatening than prancing. If something prances near me I'm long gone.
  • I'm trying to imagine a working ranch, including both sheep and cattle, without horses. I don't think you can completely replace a horse with a Jeep. Surely that would make things difficult.
...and I have nothing else to say about this. That's it, folks.

3 comments:

sundae-mourning said...

oh, this book made me cry almost as much as Battlecry Forever! i kept waiting for Joanna to write a sequel where Whitestar comes back, and was sort of disappointed to never see one. though it is sort of annoying to see how she pretty much regurgitated this story into Cindy's Runaway Colt.

Claire said...

mara, i've been waiting for you to review this one. i think it was always my least favorite of all of campbell's books. from this vast temporal distance, all i really remember is the insane amount of crying. and nice catch with whitestar's mane! i never noticed that before :D

Anonymous said...

I think Joanna Campbell has a thing against mothers.