by Alice Leonhardt
This is another one of those books with one of those completely ridiculous titles that tries to mean something but just fails horribly. The cover:
I always liked the composition of this cover, despite some rather obvious factors that I seem to have just noticed. For instance, here Christina and Melanie ride Sterling and Trib through a stream in the Pacific Northwest. Because they've decided to ride through a batch of what look to be redwoods in the distance, they've decided to wear their sweaters, which is totally acceptable for Oregon in July. Sure, that's great. Only it's supposed to be Kentucky and I have a feeling that Kentucky doesn't look like this and why are they wearing sweaters when they keep insisting it feels like it's 100 degrees outside in the book? Also, Melanie and Christina appear to be twins. And Trib doesn't look like a pony to me when he's practically Sterling's height. All of this is very unfortunate, because otherwise, you know, it's not bad. I always thought this was Sterling's best cover.
Oh, you guys, get ready for the Thoroughbred Series meets crappy juvenile mystery genre! Who could possibly be ruining Melanie's perfect summer? Who could possibly care enough (...about something?) that they resort to making the next two weeks of Melanie's life a living hell? Who indeed. I'm sure we'll find out, and I'm sure we'll be disappointed. However, I'm confident that we won't care. At all. So.Will Melanie have to leave Whitebrook?
Melanie Graham loves spending time in Kentucky with her cousin Christina. She loves being away from New York City. And most of all, Melanie loves riding! That's why she's determined to win the competition next week. Her dad is flying all the way from New York to watch. Once he sees well how well Melanie rides, he'll let her stay in Kentucky for good.
But then someone begins sabotaging the other riders--and everyone blames Melanie! She might even be disqualified from the competition. Melanie knows that if her dad finds out, he'll make her go back to New York for sure!
Can Melanie prove that she's innocent in time for the big competition?
Welcome to Camp Saddlebrook, where all your dreams...wait, never mind. The shiny, picture perfect camp experience that was Dale Gasque's attempt to make this series readable has gone through a thorough tarnishing at the hands of Alice Leonhardt, who wrote a good chunk of books in this series and therefore influenced everyone's insanity to a high degree. Actually, I'm pretty sure she's responsible for most of the crazy that goes on in these books.
Anyway, because the New Generation was basically an evil round robin passed between authors with varying ideas of what the written word is supposed to look like, we have Melanie's Last Ride. Somewhere between Camp Saddlebrook and this book, which is about five minutes in TB time, everyone goes through a massive personality shift. Christina goes back to pathetically grumbling about how she wants to be better but isn't, and Melanie...well, Melanie spends all of her time bouncing back and forth between frightening cheerfulness and crushing depression with a generous dose of moping thrown in for good measure. There's also a lot of shrieking during seemingly impossible scenarios, which appears to be Alice's forte. Anyway.
So everyone's coming off the tremendous high that is Eliza buying Flash. Although, you know, like I said everyone suddenly goes off key at the start of this book because what was all nicely tied up in the previous book has to get ripped to shreds in this book so there can be drama and issues and what all. Anyway, everyone goes off to have their lesson and Melanie somehow runs into a nest of yellow jackets. Frieda Bruder, the German riding instructor from Christina's Courage, saves the day by swooping Melanie up all Spiderman-like and running off to hide behind a tree. Yes, that actually happened. So Trib runs off and Dana gets pissy about something because that is her purpose in this book, and before you know it Christina finds her tack trunk riffled through and immediately blames Melanie. Because Melanie is everyone's scapegoat.
I should say that the point system Camp Saddlebrook runs on, the very same one I was so extremely bored by in the previous book and therefore refused to mention in any detail, is like the big plot motivator in this book. So now I'm forced to mention it. I hate having to do this. But this is for the common good, so bear with me. Each group of riders starts out each day with eight possible points. As they go through the day, these points can be taken away with every minor problem -- like accidentally not giving your horse fresh water, or not cleaning the tack each day...stuff like that. Dana is a huge bitch about this system, and uses it to back up her supreme power of Barn A, and no one is really happy about this. So by the time all these pranks start happening that cause point deductions everyone is all pissed because they won't win as the most cleanly group at camp, or something. If it seems pretty stupid and pointless, it is. It really is. Because this is camp, and from my fuzzy memories that's all camp is about. Stupid, pointless. Anyway, these pranks start to happen and somehow everyone knows instinctively to blame Melanie. What does Melanie do? She pouts and feels sorry for herself and cries.
So this goes on for the entire book. One prank happens, so people blame Melanie. She half-heartedly tries to say she wasn't behind the pranks, but no one really believes her. So after every bridle in Barn B gets switched around, Melanie decides she's had enough of this getting blamed for what she didn't do, so she opts to go cause something people can blame her for. The logic here is stunning. Just really very amazing. So she somehow manages to convince Christina to go up to the carriage house to pull a prank on Dylan, Sean and Nathan. This involves sneaking into the bathroom of the boy's room and smearing jelly in their hairbrushes and toothbrushes and so forth. Only they're caught by Sean, who helpfully goes about pulling off the prank for them. Then, to get back at the girls, the boys smear peanut butter on all their toiletries. Everyone blames Melanie, naturally.
Somewhere around here we've got some angst about how Melanie's dad may not show up at the end of camp show, and how Melanie has her great epiphany that she actually hasn't been trying very hard at this whole camp thing and so she resolves to apologize to her teammates for being a general screw up. But then someone goes and lights the feed shed on fire, resulting in high drama and more attempts to pin things on Melanie because one of her flip-flops happened to be by the shed. By this point, Christina et al in their riding group side with Melanie because there's no way Melanie would try to harm a horse. So everyone embraces their internal sleuth and starts hunting around for clues. At one point Melanie decides Gus (the maintenance guy) is behind it all because he's generally grumpy, but after searching through his personal property she just finds a letter indicating he'd been given a bonus, therefore he couldn't possibly be disgruntled, right? So who could it be? Dana is also thrown in there, but she's got the out of recently having her parents split up. So she's suddenly got a reason to be a bitch.
Right around here Sean decides to throw a convenient fit. Because we're nearing that page limit and someone has to be at fault here. Sean is the kind of kid with parents who like to be hard asses and probably were so far from being perfectionists when they were kids that they've developed all sorts of issues to shuffle off on their children. So the result of their procreating is naturally pretty fucked up. Sean's not going to be a pleasant person to be around when he grows up, because on a trail ride he decides to go ballistic on his horse because his parents are meanies with no love for their son who doesn't like football. Or something. So Melanie decides to go confront Sean, who accidentally gives up the fact that yes, he did start the fire to the shed because he wanted to get some attention and finally be the hero. Melanie convinces him to do the right thing and confess, which he does, and Melanie's father shows up, and Sean tells Melanie he'll write her (although I think he just disappears, which is fine with me...he's more than a little creepy) and Melanie and her group suddenly decide that winning isn't everything and everyone screws up in the final show and they probably don't get any awards, which is fine because they feel like winners anyway.
- At one point Christina's name becomes "Chris-tina."
- Out on the cross country course, Christina starts grumbling about how the fences, which look freakishly impossible to jump according to Melanie, are "baby fences." Oh, Alice Leonhardt's version of Christina, I've missed you so!
- Exactly how many books do we have to go through where we learn that winning isn't everything? How many lessons on the same topic do these people have to learn before we can move on to something else already?