Jul 1, 2008

He's Not Nobody's Horse because He Belongs to Somebody

Since the trend seems to be reviewing favorite horse books from childhood, I thought I'd give one of my all-time favorites a go.

This is a book I positively treasured as a kid. I checked it out from the library over and over again and added Farfalla to my stable of imaginary horses immediately. I was delighted when I found a copy of it somewhere, and it even has a special place on my bookshelf reserved for only the best books in my personal library. So, did it live up to my overly fond memories?

The short answer is no. It's actually pretty terrible over all. Perhaps I will be able to bring this out in the review. But you know it's going to be disappointing when the best part of the book is the author's bio, which reads: Dorothy Nafus Morrison lives with her husband in Oregon. In addition to writing, she enjoys photography and square dancing. I really don't see how any book could possibly live up to that. It's not thing this book is terribly offensive or infuriating it's just...boring. Really fucking boring.
Jenny Alexander has her heart set on taking jumping lessons on a beautiful horse named Cinnabar. But when her parents take an unexpected business trip, she is shipped off to her cousin in Wyoming instead.

There Jenny beings to take care of a sick and neglected horse that was abandoned at her cousin's home. Newly named Farfalla, the horse turns out to be much younger than originally thought - and well trained.

But the horse's origins remain a mystery, and Jenny begins to think of him as her own. But the questions remain: Whose horse is he? Why would anyone abandon him? And how could Jenny ever bear to give him up?
I'm not sure how I feel about typing the blurb up, honestly, because it's pretty much entirely accurate and therefore partially negates my job as a reviewer. But I'll attempt to amuse anyway.

Jenny is our typical pre-teen girl, who, since she has not yet discovered boys, is beside herself with joy that she's going to take jumping lessons on the best horse at the local stable, Cinnabar. Despite the fact that I'm pretty sure her parents are loaded, her mother believes in teaching her the importance of thrift and hard work, so Jenny had to save up to pay for these jumping lessons all by herself. This mission has been accomplished, however, and everything is set to go swimmingly until she finds out her parents are going to Korea for the summer and she'll have to choose between staying with a boring aunt and uncle or going to Wyoming to stay with her full-grown cousin and her two young children.

Jenny is generally pissed about this, but settles on Wyoming because she'll be able to ride there. You see, Lorelei has recently moved into her house and the previous owners abandoned a horse in the barn. He is generally decrepit, which Jenny finds to be terribly disappointing, but oh well, taking care of him is better than nothing. Saving him from the dog food factory is very noble of her, and all, because that's what Lorelei was going to do.

There's a lot to take care of, too. Horse, as they call him at first because they don't know his name, is filthy, skin and bones, has an abscessed hoof, and worms. Jenny is smart enough to know that feeding and treating this horse is going to take a lot of money. She doesn't want to ask single-mother and new home owner Lorelei to spend all her money on the horse, so she decides the thing to do is withdraw all the money she saved to ride Cinnabar from the bank. Apparently this enormous sum (from what I gather $300) is too much for a young girl to withdraw at one time, though Jenny rightfully points out that it is her money. Nevertheless, the bank teller seems sure that Jenny must want this money for drugging and purchasing prostitutes, so she refuses to give Jenny the money and calls Lorelei.

This prompts a very embarassing conversation for Jenny, but lo and behold, Jenny's parents have sent enough money to cover Jenny's room and board and all the expenses that could possibly be related to this horse. This is all really thrilling, and somewhere in there Jenny decides to give Horse a bath, with the help of Lorelei's kids, Chip and Lissie. Except Chip scares Horse and he runs off into the plains, so Jenny has to chase after him. Even decrepit Horse is pretty fast, so it's lucky for Jenny that red-haired Pam appears on her horse Rocky (short for Sky Rocket) to save the day! Jenny hates Pam initially because Pam is bossy, but she decides to live with it basically because she is so lonely.

Anyway, most of the first chapters are filled with details about Jenny rehabilitating Horse. They build him a paddock and shoe him and worm him, and Jenny buys feed for him. Turns out he is only seven as opposed to twenty or twenty-fivce, as originally thought. Somewhere in there they decide to name him Farfalla, Italian for butterfly, because he has a strange star that looks kind of like a butterfly. He also has pin stripes up the insides of his legs that prompt Chip to declare Farfalla should be named Stripey. Cute.

Finally it is time to ride Farfalla, and since they are in the West this means we must ride Western. Jenny gets on and does it all wrong, because she rides English, and Pam laughs at her. Despite these hilarious antics, Farfalla acts like a gentleman. Turns out he is perfectly trained. Surprise. Then both girls decide to train Farfalla for barrel racing, so Jenny rides Farfalla on down the road to Pam's and they give it a go. Everyone keeps telling her how big Farfalla is -too big for barrel racing - and Pam's dad keeps remarking on Farfalla's origins. This makes Jenny nervous because she's just waiting for someone to show up and claim the previously abandoned horse. Farfalla is hers damnit, she saved his life twice...even though the second time it was from colic that she gave him because she overfed him. Yes. Moving on.

After Farfalla is all better, the last chapters really are quite rushed. Jemnny and Farfalla show in a barrel race. They have tons of fun, you guys, but Farfalla does awfully because he's so big. Meanwhile, Chip's parrot has eaten all his tadpoles because he left him out of his cage (just bear with me here) so Chip wants Jenny to take him down to the pond to catch some new ones. Jenny keeps refusing, and takes Farfalla out for a ride, so Chip decides to go met her on the trail. He drags Lissie with him and they climb up this huge rock, and as soon as they see Jenny, Chip jumps up and promptly falls off and lands on his head.

This is pretty terrifying, as you can imagine, so Jenny has to gallop Farfalla back home to find an ambulance. Because Farfalla is related to Sierra, he jumps a clsoed gate along the way like an old pro, and after the day is saved Jenny decides she is going to train Farfalla to jump, even though she barely has any experience. She takes Farfalla back to Pam's ranch and works with a stablehand who has some experience with showing (he is old and rickety of course). Then they go off to a horse show and Jenny wins one of her classes and it's just darling. So darling reporters want to interview her.

Jenny is apprehensive at first - she doesn't want Farfalla's real owner to see him on the news and claim him. Then she decides she can't live a lie and tells Farfalla's whole story, which is then rebroadcast on the news, probably under the category of human interest.

Sure enough, a man claiming to be Farfalla's owner calls, and Jenny freaks out and threatens to run away. She decides that's a stupid idea (really, she has so much better sense than Cindy, who had a similar storyline), so she makes some cheese sandwiches and rides Farfalla out onto the trails one last time, thinking she's going to have to give him up. Taking a page from Chip's book called What Not to Do in the Unfamiliar Wilderness, she wanders off into the woods, and she and the horse get lost in the middle of a rain storm. She spends two nights in a cave with coyotes and cougars and bats before Farfalla figures out how to get home. Back at the ranch, both her parents have arrived and are angry, thinking she ran away, then relieved when they learn she was just stupid.

Then Farfalla's old owner comes by and positively identifies the horse. Turns out there was a stablehand named Shiny who fell in love with the colt, named him Montezuma, and then stole him. He then holed up with the horse in a shack, gelded him (all by his lonesome), and trained him for a year before doing something illegal and dumping the horse on his friends, the Browns. He then got arrested and sent to jail, and really why is anyone surprised that someone named Shiny would do such a thing?

Jenny bravely prepares to say good-bye to Farfalla, but his old owner tells her that he doesn't want the colt any more. He's gotten out of the horse business and will sell him for a dollar. So Jenny buys him and takes him home, huzzah, the end. Boring.

  • In a book aimed at children, Mrs. Morrison uses the word lugubrious meaning: "mournful, dismal, or gloomy, especially to an exaggerated or ludicrous degree.. She is describing Lorelei's children. Even I had to look this word up. Congratulations, Mrs. Morrison. No wonder my vocabulary is so good.
  • the summer is described as starting out in a "dumb-dumb" way. This author is a word smith.
  • At the show, the judge sits on a horse in the ring and describes the course to the riders as they wait on horseback. They don't get to walk the course. This seems strange to me.
So there you have it. Writing this review I was freakishly reminded of both Cindy's Runaway Colt, Cindy's Glory, and The Horse of Her Dreams. Of the three I think the abadoned/abused horse scenario here is the most believable, until you get to the part about Shiny. But still, there's no hiding horses in woodsheds or training them to race themselves - sure Farfalla's recovery is swift and he's perfectly trained, but Jenny is never riding him without supervision. She's a little bit of a whiny main character, but she's no Mary sue. Like I said, this book's main offense is that it's just boring. Maybe I'll move it from my special book shelf, pretend I never reread it, and continue to cherish my memories. And the horse on the cover. He's really pretty.


Molly (formerly anonymous) said...

Oh my god, y'all are reading my MIND today! This is another book I've been trying to remember the name of for YEARS with no success. I remember loving it. I read it about a million times. Wow, though, it does sound intensely boring.

Are you guys ever going to cover the Silver Creek Riders series?

Claire said...

holy crap, now you're reading my mind because i just finished reading the first silver creek riders book for this blog literally 25 minutes ago. look for that one tomorrow.

:is all freaked out:

Courtney said...

I used to love this book! I dreamed for years after reading it of finding a horse abandoned somewhere that would become a wonderful jumper.

Any reviews in the future of Patricia Leith (or Leitch, can't remember what her name is) books about Ginny and Shantih? I wrote a BOOK REPORT ON ONE OF THEM AND MY TEACHER KEPT CROSSING OUT "aRAB" AND WRITING IN "aRABIAn." (Sorry, hit caps lock!)