Jul 10, 2008

Return of the Magical Poontang or Breaking the Fall, TB #67

If you do a Google search for "Jennifer Chu," you get lots of strange things. For example, the first hit is for a Jennifer Chu who was apparently Miss Asia USA in 2005. Sweet, right? Too bad it's not our girl, that would make for an interesting story. Turns out you also find this. Looks like our favorite fan-turned-author has gotten married. How cute! Congratulations, Jennifer. We all appreciated your attempts to inject some history into the TB series. As a fan yourself, you seemed to understand that we wanted to know what happened to our favorite horses. Hell, even the other authors got clued in and tried a little. Though none as hard as you. So thank you. And now I'm going to decimate one of your books in this quaint, online blog. I hope you will forgive me.

Every time I visualize this cover in my mind, I visualize it with chickens. That's right, chickens. Because to me the inexplicable setting of this terrible illustration is the barnyard of some second rate abandoned farm in Alabama. I've always thought this cover was the ugliest in the series - even the color of the header offends me - but I don't think I've ever looked at it as closely as I did upon this reading, probably because prior to today every time I tried to look at it my eyes would begin to melt. I'm not sure who that girl glaring at the girl on the horse is, but she's got a totally ugly haircut. I guess it's supposed to be Chris, but I don't want to make any assumptions that I might later be held accountable for. I don't even know where to be begin describing the rider's horrid position. She's riding her galloping horse using only a halter and a lead line, the end of which she is holding as one might hold an ice cream cone. Further, her toes are pointing straight down in the stirrups of that play-horse saddley thing that has no girth and is sure to fly off any second. But, at least there's a chin strap on her be-ribboned helmet, so when she falls on her fat head she will only have minor brain damage. P.S. Galloping full speed in a barnyard often results in death.
Will an injury spell the end for Christina's racing career and her friendship with Melanie?

After taking a year off to train with her beloved Star for the Breeders' Cup, Christina is back in silks riding a few preliminary races. But all her plans are shattered when she suffers a severe injury in a track accident. When she learns she won't be able to ride for at least three months, Christina reluctantly agrees to let Melanie train Star - a situation that will begin to tear the cousins apart. Will they be able to mend their differences for Star's sake? And just what will Christina do while her injury heals?
Oh dear. This blurb is just as completely horrifying and inaccurate as the cover illustration. First of all, Christina did not take a year off from racing to race Star, which is what this synopsis seems to think is the case. She took a year off from school to race, which included training Star for the Triple Crown, not the Breeders' Cup. Secondly, she won't be able to ride for at least six months, not three. Thirdly, Melanie does not train Star herself. And while we're on that, fourthly, Christina willingly agrees that Melanie ride Star, and neither of them fight about it at all. I don't think Christina and Melanie have one argument in the entire book. It's wonderful. If this synopsis was written before Jennifer Chu wrote the book, then I am going to mail her a candy bar as thanks for not going down the Chris and Mel hate each other road again.

I would like to begin this review by saying the more NewGen books I read where Chris is a jockey, the less I believe it, especially having just reread all the eventing books. Christina as a jockey has just never been convincing to me. The personality change was handled rather horribly. Also, I think it's just jarring to take our naive, chaste young protagonists and stick them in the world of jockeying. Something about these characters actually riding in the races just seems unnatural to me. Melanie's character pulls is off better than anyone else, but she has this weird air of professionalism about her that Chris and Cindy never did. That being said, I spent this whole book thinking about how endlessly weird it is to me that Chris is a jockey. Never have I encountered a more contrived plot device in my entire life.

Anyway, as the book begins we are cheerfully reintroduced to Christina as she sits on a plane and waits to see Star at Belmont. She has been learning about DNA in her biology textbook, you see, because for some completely unknown reason Chris has decided maybe she wants to be a vet. Okay TB authors, I have kind of accepted Christina as a jockey despite problems listed above, but I just don't buy her as a vet. This interest came completely out of left field. Or it was created by the the TB series unresolved plot addict, who realized that Cindy's vet aspirations were never fully explored and decided to staple her storyline onto Christina's. It's awful, and I hate it so much that I want to use this book and every other describing Christina's interest in becoming a vet as a dartboard.

Getting back to the enthralling story, Christina gets to Belmont and is just super juiced because she's going to ride Star in the Jockey Gold Cup and everything is going to be swell! She and Melanie go out for dinner, and Melanie starts bitching about how Jazz is being such a jerk ass about this paying millions of dollars to feed and board a cripple and a schizophrenic homicidal stallion. Christina is perplexed because six months ago Jazz was "completely devoted" to Melanie, and is now a totally meanie face. What Christina doesn't realize is that while Jazz was in Europe he had sex with a bunch of groupies and realized that Melanie's poontang isn't so magical, and therefore stopped caring about trying to hold its hand. Basically no poontang, no moolah. Poor Mel, et. al.

Christina is really nervous about doing well with Star, but first she has to ride some other horses. Because this is a Jennifer Chu book, Dreamflight characters make an appearance, though this time their presence isn't overbearing, and therefore disjointed and odd. So Christina rides Enigmatic in a race and that's fine. Then it's time to ride Charisma, your favorite Pride offspring and mine, in her first Grade I race. Exciting right? Yeah! Except that Christina gets into a horrible accident and is dragged on the track when she falls and her foot gets stuck in the stirrup. Oops!

Turns out that Christina's leg is, in medical terms, "fucked up," and she's not going to be able to ride for a long time into the foreseeable and unforeseeable future, if she's ever able to ride again at all. On a serious, nonsnarky note, that really does suck. I would hate hate hate to have that kind of injury. But to return to our regular tone, this is most upsetting to Christina because now she won't be able to ride Star in the Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup, which were to be the shining crown turds on the magnificent shit sandwich that was Star's three year old season. Without Christina riding, Star is going to do terribly, boo to the hoo, y'all.

Time out. Okay. Which one is it? Star either runs okay with other jockeys or he doesn't. In Down to the Wire he would only run for Chris, then in Living Legend he would run for Ashleigh, and in Unbridled Fury he even won for Melanie. So what's the big deal about her riding? Is Star now just as disenchanted with Melanie's magical poontang as Jazz is? If so, really, Melanie might want to get that checked out.

After learning the news about not being able to ride Star Christina absolutely flips out and throws a temper tantrum worthy of a scene out of Derby Fever, complete with rudeness, whining, and self-pity. During this tantrum she says that Star is all she has thought about for the past three years, therefore admitting her creepy and annoying obsession with her horse. Her horse and winning. Because without her riding Star, who I've decided is just as spoiled and disgusting as Christina, won't win, and if Star doesn't win there's nothing left to live for, especially since Melanie's magical poontang has apparently lost its luster.

Something else that's lost its luster is Star. He just absolutely sucks with Melanie onboard, that bratty fuck. I hate him. Cindy decides to distract us all from this melodramatic crap fest by adopting Allie Avery whose parents, Craig Avery and Jilly Gordon, Jennifer Chu heartlessly killed off to make this ridiculously shitty and poorly thought out plot twist possible. It was either Sundae or Monique (I think, I'm sorry if I'm wrong) who pointed out after one of my Allie book reviews that bringing those characters back into the series did not mean killing them off. And thanks to this brilliant idea we have now all been saddled with this awful, terrible character who has been put in the care of Cindy, the most loathed character in TB series history and gah it's all so bad that I just want to...use this book as a dartboard. So here's a big thanks for this one Jennifer Chu. We all think it was a great idea.

Now that Allie has officially entered the picture and I have started to think about how much I just abhor her very existence, the annoying A Plot of Will Star Ever Run Again???? looks heavenly in comparison. Before we can get back to that commotion, Jinx has to lose a race and Christina goes to visit some vet clinic in New York. Maybe she has the magical poontang now because the vet there offers her a job. Annoying.

Parker comes back from England after placing fourth at Burghley on Foxy and loves Christina even though she's in a wheelchair because she has a magical poontang. He loves her so much that he buys her a 250 piece jigsaw puzzle to put together with Allie before the Gold Cup so that she won't be nervous. Parker, you're a gem. Anyway, it was a waste of money because Star loses.

Everyone troops back to Kentucky, because Whitebrook likes to ship its horses around as much as possible during racing season just so that they go insane from spending so much time traveling to and from strange places in trailers and airplanes. It's one of their special training methods, right up there with never using crops and letting 12 year olds exercise and train racehorses without supervision.

Christina goes over to Whisperwood with Allie so that Allie can get a head start on being a Mary Sue and ride not one but TWO horses perfectly over jumps both inside AND outside the ring. Sweet mother Mary. And Samantha's really pregnant. So pregnant she asks Chris to help her teach lessons. Chris is all yeah, okay. But right now I'm too busy obsessing about Star, so this will all have to wait until after I'm done with that.

On that subject, Star still pretty much sucks every time Melanie rides him. Christina then decides the solution is that she has to ride Star, and better yet, it needs to happen at dark when no one else is awake and can yell at her! So here we have riding at dark AND riding while one limb is encased in plaster and broken in billions of places. Beat that, Cindy. Thankfully, Chris is smart enough to ask Melanie to help her out so that when the whole thing goes horribly wrong and Christina almost dies again, there is someone there to save her. Only afterward does Christina realize the whole thing was a bad idea and apologize to Star for making him so upset. Careful, Chris. Even those with the magical poontang can do wrong.

Christina is still berating her poontang for letting her down later that day when she helps Melanie trailer Jinx over to Tall Oaks. Melanie thinks that moving Jinx will help him behave because he'll put more effort into acclimating to his new surroundings then he will to fighting her during training. I am pretty sure this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Unless Melanie is counting on him to exhaust himself from stress, though it seems to me that then he wouldn't have enough energy to race, and that it would also be kind of cruel. I'm really not sure. Whatever.

At Tall Oaks, Christina wanders down to the track to see Allie exercising riding Rush Street in the middle of the afternoon with Ben supervising. Please figure out why I find this scenario offensive by yourself, as I'm tired of spelling these things out. Christina is really happy because Allie rides just like she does!!!! Maybe her poontang is just as magical and she'll be able to make Star run! So Christina drags Allie over to Whitebrook and slaps her on Star and says, RIDE BITCH!

Things don't really go so well. Christina keeps telling Allie what to do and Star just keeps getting worse. So finally Allie comes over and yells at Christina, saying that she has to ride Star in her own way, because no one can ride like Christina. Or something. I probably explained that poorly but it's a stupid explanation to begin with. Why can't these horses ever have real problems like chronic leg injuries or just being sucky? I don't know.

Stupid horse psychology aside, Christina tells Allie to ride Star without taking Christina's methods into mind. You know, Allie should listen to what the horse is telling her. Of course this harebrained scheme works, so Christina has Melanie do it and that's just wonderful. So wonderful Melanie decides maybe Jinx needs a different rider, though what really happened is Dreamflight wasn't in the book enough because this means that Aaron gets to ride Jinx in another race, which he loses. So much for that. Your poontang just ain't what it used to be, Melanie.

After this we have the Breeders' Cup. Charisma wins the Juvenile Fillies and Star comes in second in the Classic, but this is okay with Christina because all that matters is their shared love for her magical poontang. And oh yeah, somewhere in there Christina saves a horse at a vet clinic who has the same mysterious virus that Star did. Magical and multi-talented. That is one impressive poontang.

Points of Interest:
  • Christina asks Melanie for a hair tie and we are treated to the description, "Melanie kept her blond hair short, so she never had to bother with things like that." Things like that? This makes it sound like pony tail holders are a cat box in need of cleaning, or something equally undesirable.
  • In reference to Cindy's adoption of Allie, Ian describes Cindy as both caring and selfless, the first time anyone has ever used the words to describe Cindy without the word "not" appearing in front of both of them.
  • Apparently Star, like "all" of Wonder's other offspring, has superdrive. Dear Jennifer Chu: Did you think we wouldn't hate you enough for killing off two beloved characters to introduce a third who sucks and then placing her in the care of the suckiest TB character of all time (other than the one YOU) created wasn't bad enough? Did you have to actually bring back stupid I MEAN superdrive, and even worse, legitimate it? What, was Karen Bentley paying you off or something? Because it seems to me that this is likely.
  • Holy crap, at one point Melanie actually uses a crop on Star during a breeze. WTF is going on here? Am I in another universe?
  • During a work Jinx bolts and runs the wrong way down the track. Sorry Jinx, to be a Derby winner you have to do that during a race.
  • Okay, I really think that this entire book was based off of ideas stolen from previous TB books, most notably Bentley's, though Christina breaking her leg comes right out of Ashleigh's Christmas Miracle. But besides that, and the superdrive, and the adopting a new character, we now learn that Star doesn't like it when his riders anticipate that he is going to do something bad. Sound a little bit like Champion's Spirit, anyone?
And so ends this book. Really, that's all. I swear. I hope.

7 comments:

Mara said...

Most of Jennifer Chu's books seem to involve how the main characters should just, you know, not try to do anything because the horse(s) are so naturally brilliant they train themselves. That, or Christina is an absolutely horrible rider and no one can come right out and say it.

And I can never forgive her for killing off two perfectly good characters that could have kept on living and still managed to give us stupid Allie. Stupid listserv feeding Jennifer their fucking worthless ideas.

Claire said...

for some reason it seems to me that mary probably had a large hand in this as well. wasn't her daughter, dani, an advocate of this plot? god it just makes me so mad i almost need to take a tranquilizer.

Mara said...

I seem to remember just about everyone on the listserv thinking the adoption plot was fabulous except for you, me, and Lei. It might have been because Dani thought it was great, and because her mom was Mary that meant everyone else fell into line with her. Although, yeah, I have a feeling Mary had a large hand in convincing the editors we needed another character and the character should be an orphan that wound up with Cindy (due to her amazing focus group responses that was the idiocy of the listserv). The finer details, like killing of Jilly and Craig, was probably all Jennifer.

sundae_mourning said...

i still can't figure out the logic behind KILLING OFF one of the most beloved characters of the OG as well as her husband when people had been bitching for years that they disappeared. i would have preferred they stay lost in Arizona than having them killed, especially since Jilly was at some Preakness party, despite having died ten years earlier.

if they needed a new girl, i still stand by my original idea. have Jilly come to work galloping for Whitebrook while Craig is off riding, so Allie can have a stable life at a real high school instead of moving from track to track. with Chris and Mel off racing and Naomi and Anna probably dead, Whitebrook apparently has no exercise riders left, so it could work just fine. then make Cindy Allie's mentor since Allie is like every teenager and can't stand to listen to her mom. there you go, a plotline that probably would have made a ton of fans happy and it only took me thirty seconds to think of. Thoroughbred is not that difficult!

in the meantime, excellent review. i loved this book and should read it again, especially since i remember the Classic being rather anticlimactic. and i also hated the back cover blurb and the way it misled me. i liked the book way better this way.

Molly (formerly anonymous) said...

When I first read this book and read what happened to Allie's parents, I spluttered angrily at it, then CRIED BECAUSE SHE JUST KILLED PART OF MY CHILDHOOD.

And no way they would have produced a fucking Mary Sue like Allie. NO WAY. If she had been Cindy's brat, maybe...

Monique said...

Oh man, awesome review, Claire. You get better and better! I almost ruptured my stiches laughing. :P (I had an op and will be back for reviewing the worst TB book in history in a few days, as soon as I can stomach the fucking thing...)

Yasmine said...

Oh my fucking gosh, I had the most wonderful image in my mind after reading your HILARIOUS description of this HORRENDOUS cover of that girl and her horse, galloping at breakneck speed through some ghetto-ass, muddy yard with a bunch of chickens on the ground. As the horse pounds on, several chickens cluck and scream as quickly flying hoofs nick them, and when the horse stops dead, the girl just goes flying across a soggy paddock and into an old, nasty, ramshack shot-gun house head first...