by K.M. Peyton
I didn't really know what I was getting into with this book when I picked it up. To me it was just a young adult book with a horse on the cover, so I mindlessly added it to the stack of books I already had and checked them all out. This one is on the long side -- 360 pages -- but I'm pretty sure it could have been cut down severely to get the whole story in. But that would have meant deleting all the exclamatory sentences that come out of nowhere, and as we all know, you can't just do that in horse stories because that takes away most of the completely insane emotional turmoil our characters have to go through. God forbid. Anyway.
Tessa has major attitude and an impossible dream—not a great combination for success. But she believes that fate has delivered the ungainly horse Buffoon to her, and Tessa is determined never to be separated from him. What's more, she intends to one day become a jockey and ride Buffoon in the Grand National. But how can a girl with a violent temper and a “can't do” philosophy gain the physical strength, courage, and money needed to become a jockey—especially when her stepfather would like nothing better than to see her fail? Determination and grit may not be enough—but Tessa's not going to let go without giving it her all.Okay, the thing about this book is that you can see how it clearly could be good. It really had the potential. Unfortunately it took that potential and then sort of shoved it into the 1960's and decided that "major attitude" could very well mean "homicidal tendencies." Who can tell the difference, right? I'll get to that part later, because it's really the absolute best part.
So, much to my extreme vexation, this book starts out in Ireland. I made a promise to myself that I wasn't going to read another book set in Ireland for at least twelve months, and I just about had to shut it down after the first chapter because the first character we hear about is named Declan. It was almost too much. However, I soldiered on. Declan was having a tough time, mainly because his only mare just gave birth to a filly with no eyes. His wife wants to put the foal down immediately, but since the mare is so old and has this fantastic progeny record, he refuses and keeps the foal. They name this horse Shiner.
Speed up to four years down the line. Declan has become a drunk and his wife left him, taking their eight-year-old daughter, Tessa, with her to Liverpool (thank GOD, we've moved to England and therefore I can now enjoy this book). Declan's bred Shiner, producing a ugly colt that Shiner immediately feels like killing. So Declan saves the colt and feels like getting drunk again because his life sucks. Blah blah blah.
Speed forward another four years. Tessa is now twelve and her mother has remarried to this rich guy called Maurice. Maurice, we are very casually informed, is evil. He likes to run over hedgehogs in his spare time and is just, well, evil. I don't know why, but we are repeatedly informed that he's a jackass and he sort of acts like a jackass sometimes because he wants Tessa in a boarding school because he's tired of her and I don't blame him. Fresh out of getting kicked out of her third boarding school, Tessa comes home and muses to herself about how much she'd like to poison Maurice. She even went so far as to buy arsenic or something, so she could do it slowly, over time, and laugh as he dies. This homicidal rage is chalked up as feisty attitude by the author, who somehow thinks her character should be allowed to physically harm anyone she wants because her stepfather is a jerk. Really, I'm not exaggerating. Cross Tessa and she's not going to fantasize about cutting you. She will cut you and then laugh while you bleed to death.
So she comes home and immediately breaks into some of the sherry, raging about how she hates everything and everyone. She hates her stepbrother for being annoying, she hates her mother for being stupid and staying with Maurice, she hates Maurice, she hates school, etc. She has no friends, because she probably tried to kill anyone who attempted to befriend her. She's scary, actually.
Anyway, Maurice is all pissed off because he can't get her into another school, but since it's almost summer he just decides to get her a job and out of his hair. So he shoves her to some tenants who deal with horses and she hates that. She goes, hates everyone, informs them all that she hates her stepfather (repeatedly) and then rages some more about how she hates them all. She's determined to get fired from the job, but no one will do it so she just hates them even more. If I read the word "hate" one more time I was going to put down the book. Unfortunately for me these people get a fresh group of horses in and Tessa is given the ugliest of the bunch to look after. Enraged that she has to deal with this ugly horse, Tessa informs the horse that she hates it (sigh) and that it's ugly as sin and she wants nothing to do with him. The horse, aptly named Buffoon, just sort of looks at her, and then she starts crying. I feel absolutely nothing for her. In fact, I'm happy she's crying at this point because that means she's not trying to kill someone. Then she finds out that the horse is out of Shiner and she goes from hating it to loving it in about two seconds flat and starts doing an impressive version of Cindy McLean...if Cindy had been homicidal.
Anyway, she gets shoved into another school and Tessa is so pissed off she's determined to be expelled and she does this by shoving food in this bulky girl's face and then pulling a knife to defend herself against any revenge food attacks. Seriously. So she's expelled. Yay Tessa. She goes skipping off to the farm again so she can learn to ride Buffoon. There's some screaming about how Buffoon is really hers and how dare anyone inform her that he's actually owned by someone else, and then Buffoon miraculously becomes Wonder's Champion and beats all the other horses in a work with Tessa aboard, doing her best Cindy impression. It's awful. Really, just makes you want to gouge out your eyes. But Tessa is "a natural" and therefore we're supposed to think this is possible. Not to mention this is steeplechasing. Do we spend any time on Tessa learning to jump? Nope. She just does it. But then the book is helped out in this area by skipping another four years. We'll just assume she learned to jump somewhere in there.
So four years go by. Tessa is now sixteen and ready to race ride. Her first race she falls and breaks her wrist. Poor her. Then Buffoon has suddenly become so good in the last four years that he's ready for the Grand National, only just before the race someone steals his magical pony friend! Gasp! So Tessa just knows Maurice is the one that stole the pony, which is so earth shattering that Buffoon refuses to eat, and so she runs over to the mansion and brandishes a knife at anything that moves. Her mother calms her down, and they go to the Grand National and they, like, come in fifth. They're all thrilled, and Tessa's dad shows up, but is all drunk and just randomly walks off. So that was her wonderful father-daughter moment. Tessa goes home, has dinner with her wonderfully loving family, and winds up throwing food at her stepfather and storms out back to the farm. However, on her way to the farm she discovers the pony stabled on her stepfather's property, and overcome with more rage, she runs straight back to the mansion, grabs a carving knife, and stabs Maurice in the chest with it.
Yeah, so our lovely main character attempts to kill her stepfather, gets put away until she's 18, and Buffoon gets sold because his owner dies, and Maurice lives because Tessa is a weakling and didn't stab him harder or enough. In the chest. With a knife.
So, Tessa's all forlorn that she didn't kill Maurice. Then her jockey friend, Tom, visits her and he finds Buffoon and she gets out of jail/the insane asylum, and is all forlorn again because Buffoon has cataracts. So she gets her mom to give her money for cataract surgery for the horse and then he can see again and Maurice beats up her mom when he finds out, so her mom leaves him and starts to have sex with this other guy who's actually nice and they go to the Grand National again and she rides Buffoon and they of course win. (That was the last half of the book, for anyone wondering.) And Tessa and Tom kiss, because there was this whole "can she love anyone besides a horse" plot strung around in there. And I think she's, like, 22 by the end of the book. I'm pretty sure there was another four year skip in time, but I was wasn't paying close enough attention. That whole bloody incident midway through kinda derailed me.
- While I was reading this thing, I kept convincing myself it couldn't have possibly been published in 1999. Really, it reads like it was published in 1960.
- Whenever they talk about a horse being put down, they always say the horse is going to be shot. Again, I couldn't help thinking...1999? What? Are the English still shooting horses when they break down on racetracks, or is this just something they say? Are they delightfully clinging to old phrases or what?
- At one point one of the other exercise boys says something remarkably true and yet not totally positive about Buffoon and Tessa throws a curry comb at his head and cuts up his cheek. Everyone remarks that Tessa should really grow up. Yeah...and here I keep thinking that someone should have noticed the signs.
- So, Maurice really is sort of evil. But it's in a totally out of nowhere and ridiculous way. Like...his horse doesn't perform well on the track so he wants the trainer to shut it up in its stall without exercise, food, or water for a week. The trainer refuses to do this, so Maurice has the horse shot. Really, yes, this is evil behavior and we're supposed to hate Maurice for this just as much as Tessa does but I don't buy it. It's stupid. It's like what a twelve-year-old fangirl would dream up.
- Tessa also desperately wants her mother to leave Maurice, but she doesn't ever say this in a positive way. It's just screaming, waving around knives, and yelling. Then she has to remark wildly on why her mother is just so stupid. Supportive! And the thing is, this happens mostly when Tessa is sixteen. So it's obvious someone is still a spoiled brat with no concept of the real world.
- Also, I must say that the cutesy cursive chapter headings are really out of place in this book.