Jul 18, 2008

He puts the lotion on his skin and Barney keeps throwing Sarah on her ass.

Keeping Barney
Jessie Haas
Published 1982

I am just one lucky son of a bitch. This is the second book I've bought off Amazon.com that's signed by the actual author. Who woulda thought. I remember reading this book as a kid and...I think liking it. Liking it enough that I hunted for copies in bookstores everywhere. At one point I think I was successful, but I couldn't find my old copy so when I went hunting, meaning it probably got sold. So I bought myself another copy and now, just for you all, I will review it.

I don't have much to say about this cover other than holy crap is that girl terrifying. I don't know what you want to call this artistic "style," but anything that produces a human being that looks like that should not be allowed to make it out of a art school.
Nothing Sarah learned in riding school prepared her for Barney.

Sarah's always dreamed of having her own horse. And when her parents agree to let her care for a handsome half Morgan while his owner is away at college, it seems like the next best thing. Maybe Barney will become so devoted to Sarah that Missy won't even want him back!
The premise is this. All her life Sarah has dreamed of owning a horse, preferably the Black out of The Black Stallion. Her dad has just written his first book and apparently it made her family oodles of money, enough that both her parents could quit their jobs and move out to the country so Daddy dearest can work on his second book. By the way, they move to a farm that has been in the family for years that Sarah never knew about until they moved, her parents not having told her because it didn't seem important. All the human characters in this book are extremely weird and slightly creepy, so really this isn't very surprising when you keep all that in mind. I'll also add that...who makes that much money with a book that's not J. K. Rowling or Stephen King working on the next installment in the Hairy Pooper series? Because from what I understand it's just not that lucrative of a profession. I suppose we can't really take that into consideration though, can we? Because then we would not have a book.

Now that her family is living in the country on a farm with a barn and just rolling in acres of moolah, Sarah figures she will finally be able to have that incredibly dangerous feral stallion she's always been dreaming of. Well Sarah, not really. See, your Dad is kind of jerk and thinks you areirresponsible because you don't brush your dog's hair or remember to feed it. I guess I sort of have to agree with him, even in the face of your "I would remember to feed a horse because it's less boring" argument. If my child said that to me I would punch them in the face and lock them in their room for a week, forgetting to feed them because it's "boring." Then you would see just how lame of an excuse that really is. Not that this will ultimately stop Sarah from getting what she wants, but that comes a little later.

Also, having a horse is expensive. I guess Daddy's book wasn't so good now, was it? Luckily for Sarah, and for us, because once again we would not have a book otherwise, a perfect solution awaits. Turns out there is this horse named Barney whose owner is going off to college, toodle-oo, and the owners therefore need someone to care for and ride the horse over the winter. This arrangement is financially wonderful because the owners are willing to pay for all the feed and other expenses in exchange for this care. Now Sarah will have a free horse and a chance to prove to her father that she's responsible. Sarah's mother is all for this plan because she too had a horse once when she was young, and Sarah's father is swayed to go along.

Off our ecstatic protagonist tromps to meet this magical steed, Barney, and well...Black Stallion he is not. He is a fat, shaggy, half-Morgan, and he is an asshole. After Sarah falls down the hill and smacks into the barn when walking down to see him, Barney charges Sarah in the paddock pretty much instantly. Regardless, Sarah is still ecstatic to bring him home and instantly entertains fantasies that his owner will fall in love in college and sell Barney to her.

Sorry Sarah, The Most Beautiful Horse in the World Barney ain't. As mentioned, Barney is a giant jerk. He spends a lot of time trying to bite Sarah and trying to throw her and to bolt on her and just generally to injure her and/or make her look like a fool. This is much to the delight of a boy named Albert, who is supposed to be Sarah's friend. He is fat by the way. Haas cannot mention this kid without mentioning how fat he is. It's really quite demeaning and insensitive, and I wasn't one of those people who was offended by Wall-E. Because Albert's weight is always mentioned in a very demeaning manor, and Haas will not let you forget it because every time Albert's name is mentioned the word fat appears before or after it, sometimes more than once! He's also extremely creepy. He doesn't talk much and he is always curled up in corners smiliing these evil, self-satisfied smiles. At one point he deliberately gallops off on a trail ride because he knows Sarah isn't in control of Barney, just to make her look bad. Except Sarah falls off and gets a concussion. Barney and Albert generally feel bad after this incident, but Albert is still really creepy. He also reads science fiction, which makes him a leper. Think the Comic Book Guy if he was a child, rode horses, and worked at a diary farm in Vermont.

On top of this incredibly creepy friend (who, did I mention, is fat), Sarah also has to contend with Barney's owner, Missy. Sarah spends a great deal of time hating Missy from afar because Barney no doubt loves Missy better. In fact, Sarah spends most of her time daydreaming, and she also spends most of her time with Barney, which means that Barney is constantly getting away with mischief. When Missy comes home for Thanksgiving, she's enraged to find that Barney has developed a sore on his mouth from where Sarah has pulled on his mouth. Sarah's excuse is that she can't get him to listen otherwise.

Now, at this point I'm pretty fed up with them both. I could tell from the first time Sarah climbed on Barney's back that her big lesson would be "don't daydream on horseback," and of course, when Missy offers to give Sarah a lesson on Barney she immediately bitches Sarah out for doing just that. But I am also mad at Missy because just like her horse is an asshole, Missy is a bitch. She sent Barney off to Sarah's and no one bothered to tell her how much of a jerk this horse was or how he had to be handled so he could behave. Sarah has only ridden for three years, and her experience actually taking care of horses consisits of reading how to do so in books. So of course this girl is going to fuck up on an asshole like Barney who goes out of his way to be a nusiance. After three years of riding school horses I wouldn't have been able to take care of my own horse, especially if he was a strange horse no one told me how to ride, and unlike the school horses Sarah apparently rode, I learned how to ride on ponies with attitudes, some of which make Barney look like a puppy. But I still could not have handled a horse like that, so why is Missy surprised by all this? Really?

But I suppose this is beside the point because after her lesson with Missy, Sarah actually starts, holy crap, paying attention to the horse she is riding as opposed to the imaginary one in her head. She is able to correct Barney before he becomes naughty. And, instead of hauling around on his mouth all the time she actually uses her legs, something she apparently forgot in all the fuss. Brilliant.

Now that Barney is behaving, Sarah and Albert decide to ride up a mountain in the woods on the last day of hunting season, and of course Barney gets shot. But he lives, don't worry. Missy is understandly upset, but Sarah is allowed to take care of Barney and he recovers completely. Also, they buy him a goat to be his friend, who is allowed to run all over the house, which I believe includes pooping in it, which is gross. I have now read four books with goats in them for this blog, and by my count three of those books have included goat poop. That is a 75% rate of goat poop occurrence. Fantastic.

To end this whole great story, Missy does eventually take Barney back, but in one sentence she goes from an ice bitch to Sarah's best friend when she realizes Sarah loves Barney too, and offers to give Sarah lessons on Barney once a week during the summer. Also, Sarah's parents inform her that she's proved her responsibility and she can have her own horse, which they will buy for her in the fall. And she doesn't want a black stallion any more. Oh no, she wants an assinine horse just like Barney, a desire which is echoed in the title of this book's sequel, A Horse Like Barney. Also, Albert has lost some weight by the end of this book. Haas helpfully informs us that his shoulders are now broader than his hips. I am so glad everything is as it should be now. Seesh.

Points if Distinterest:
  • The O'Brien's, who own Barney, have a miniature replica of their own house on their front lawn that is meant for their cat. I found this to be infinitely creepy, and started screaming at the book for Sarah and her mother to run away before they walked into some slasher film.
  • Barney's paddock fence is made up completely of barbed wire. This seems like a really, really poor choice for fencing. It just screams trouble to me, really.
  • Haas constantly describes Barney's eyes as being "tri-cornered," which lead me to wonder if he was born near a nuclear reactor because why would any mammal have an eye with three corners? It was either that, or I kept picturing George Washington. And not only are Barney's eyes hats, but his ears are scimitars.
  • Haas is another author that likes to throw grown-up words into her narrative, something I am seriously all for in children's books. But she used "inexorably" wrong and it really bothers me.
  • In this book, Sarah learned to ride on school horses who were all apparently completely well trained and devoid of personality, possessing no spirit and posing no challenge. I don't know what the fuck school horses Haas has encountered, but all my nine years of riding was done on school horses, and they all had personalities that in many cases matched Barney's if they didn't outshine him. School horses are surly simply because they are school horses, especially if they're ponies. I am beginning to grow really tired of the way school horses are treated in all of these books, quite frankly, because school horses are fun and challenging and if Sarah really had gotten her experience riding school horses she would think Barney was a piece of cake. School horses are not horses used on trail rides or for pony rides and this whole attitude just makes me sick.
  • After Albert helps save Barney's life, Sarah decides she is going to punch anyone who calls him Fat Albert in the nose. This coming immediately after she has the thought "good, fat old Albert." So Sarah, are you going to punch yourself in the nose? Honestly.
This book was pleasant enough to read I guess, but I think what has always bothered me about this book is Haas's preachiness. The lesson here is that spunky ponies like Barney who are constantly trying to injure their rider are better than any other horses, and those who want other horses aren't real riders. Having a challenging horse is all well and good, they were always my favorite too, but...there's some weird bit about how Sarah and Barney are never sure who is in control, but that's just fine and dandy and...no. I don't think this is something that would ever fly with anyone I've ever ridden with. Yes riding is give and take and a partnership, and every horse needs to be approached and ridden as an individual, but taking turns being in control? I just don't know about that. Though the message the real horses are very different from, and better than, dream horses, is one I can get behind. Like I said, give me a horse I have to work to get to know and develop a rapport with any day. And having a horse give our young dreaming protagonist so much trouble is definitely not in the norm with most horse books from this age group.

Regardless of qualms or praise, I've ordered the sequel and do look forward to reading it. But I really hope the chip Haas has on her shoulder for overweight children has disappeared in that book.


sundae_mourning said...

i *loved* this book so much. it was ridiculously refreshing to read about a horse that was actually real and acted like a horse and was a common old bay instead of a gorgeous, perfect black that no one but the Mary Sue can ride. it was fun to see Sarah's transformation by the end of the book. i feel for Missy though...i kept imagining how i'd feel if i had some kid who didn't know what she was doing yanking away at my old man's mouth. so i don't think her reaction is unwarranted, though she could have explained some of this to Sarah sooner.

Claire said...

yeah, see, that was my problem with it. i would have been pissed if i were missy, too. but sarah really wasn't vetted and she was given a difficult horse without any explanation of how to control him.

molly said...

I didn't like Sarah OR Missy very much. If the horse you're leasing out has a shitton of bad habits, it might do to MENTION some of them before someone signs on for the horse. Especially if they're potentially dangerous. And why would you send the horse off to be cared for by somebody who doesn't even really know what the hell to do with him?