Jul 22, 2008

Starstruck really isn't a bad title for the sixty-third installment of the Thoroughbred Series.

It occurred to me the other day, for the very first time in the four years since its publication, that the Thoroughbred book dedicated to me is about a stalker. This gave me great pause. Originally, if memory serves, Derby Fever was supposed to be dedicated to me, but both Mary and I were pretty surprised when we opened the book and my name wasn't on the dedication page. So Mary, because she really is wonderful, yelled at the publishers, and lo, this book was dedicated to me. A book about a creepy stalker making heart-shaped pins out of Star's tail hair. What are the publishers insinuating here, eh?

I have to say, this is probably the best action shot we got from whoever drew this series of covers, though whoever they are continues their complete inability to draw tack correctly. Star's reins appear to have been torn into fractional proportions, and the artist has completely given up on saddle flaps, at least on the horse's visible side. But the most offense thing about the cover is, without question, the tag line: Will fear for Star's safety force Christina to surrender her chance to race a colt with Bold Ruler's bloodlines? Fuck yeah, it will! By this point I think the publishers really were out to get revenge on us fans and for that reason not only did they stick my name in a book about a stalker but decided to rub the whole famous horses gimmick in our faces by making it appear to be a bigger part of the plot than it actually was, at least in this book. By this point most of the authors had caught on and famous horse references usually read as grudging and, when possible, hurried. So there ya go.
Can a fan's love go too far?

Christina is thrilled by Wonder's Star's recent wins on the track, but with Star's success comes some very strange - and very creepy - activity around the farm. First, someone breaks into the Whitebrook farm. Though physically unharmed, a jittery Star compels Christina to fly home abruptly from New york. Luckily, Christina's new friend Jessie is there to support her.

For safety's sake, Christina is forced to move her renowned horse after the break-in. But when trouble follows Star to Whisperwood and then to Tall Oaks, she begns to fear for Star's well-being...and for her own. Christina may be left with only one option: to move Star to Townsend Acres, where the security is excellent, but where her nemesis, Brad Townsend, is surely up to no good...
So now Brad is Christina's nemesis? Oy. It really bothers me in these later books how Brad Townsend became Melanie and Christina's Personal Enemy Number One. Yet another way the author's reduced and infantalized his character. He has such better things to do than terrorize underage idiots. Starting with Parker's Passion, we were supposed to get a more multi-faceted view of his character that was to culminate in the all-consuming Brad glory that was to be The Price of Fame. I reread it for this blog a while ago, but honestly didn't have the engery to recap it here, so it will wait for another day I guess. For now, I will have to settle with Christina and her creepy stalker friend. Who is obviously Jessie. Honestly, did anyone not know this right away from reading the blurb? Anyone?

When last we saw our intrepid heroine and her trusty steed they were..something. I dunno. At this point the continuity of these books has really all gone to mush for me, what with all the changing of characters and the constant flying back and forth between whatever farm whatever horse is stabled at and whatever track Chris and Melanie are supposed to be racing at, but aren't because they have to do other things like buy homicidal horses that can't be left unsupervised and fend off horse-tail hungry stalkers with their bare hands.

As this book opens, Christina is up riding at Saratoga, actually being a jockey for once, but don't worry, she's still her own worst enemy. For some unfathomable reason she's been accepting rides only on bad horses while Kentucky Derby-winning Melanie happily skips along on good horses. Christina doesn't really care though - the only horse she ever really wants to ride is Star. This line came early in the book and I wanted to reach through the pages and punch this girl in the teeth, but thinking about it I realize that maybe Mary was actually being coy and setting up Christina's interest in pursuing veterinary science once Star retires. Plus, punching someone in the teeth would probably cut my knuckles all up. So.

Christina decides that she just can't wait for Star to be shipped up to Saratoga to race in the Travers (why he is not already there with the rest of the string continues to baffle the mind), so she immediately gets on a plane and flys to Whitebrook because I guess that was still possible then. After her happy reunion with her horse, who spends the majority of this book in the paddock, something I don't think high strung and valuable young racehorses are really allowed to do, Dani tells Christina that if she wants to register for college classes she'd better hustle over to the community college, for today is the last day to register. Okay, two things. First, people don't register for college on campus any more. They do it online. In 2004 I was in college and I'm pretty sure that's how we all ended up in our classes, so. Second, what happened to Christina taking a year off? She decided she was going to do this in what, Feburary? March? And now it's August and she's going to school? Shortest year ever.

Moving on from these inanities, Christina takes Dani's SUV (because Whitebrook hates the environment and loves to pay billions of dollars for gas) and drives over to the community college to register for classes. Whoa unto her, she has to go see some counselor first, who is very busy because it is the last day to register. Time out. Inanity number three: you don't need someone's approval to register for classes in college. That is part of the point of college. No one can approve or disapprove of the courses you want to take. If you want to take Toothpaste 101 that is YOUR call. That's part of how they entice high schoolers to go to college in the first place. Complete freedom to control your schedule so long as you pay. /rant

Christinia just doesn't know what to do, but luckily for her a girl appears out of nowhere, introduces herself as Jessie, and immediately begins babbling about how much she adores Star. She is instantly grating, but Christina thinks she's just the best because Jessie greases the wheels for her and gets Christina into all the classes she wanted to take. Christina wants to repay Jessie for her kindness, so she kindly invites her over to watch Star's workout the next morning. Surely this won't end up being something Christina regrets, like every other time she's asked someone to watch one of Star's works.

Christina goes home, but not without stopping to get gas first, because filling up Dani's tank is important because Dani is poor. I guess this is actually a really nice gesture on Chris's part, especially considering Dani was a dumb ass and bought herself an SUV even though she is a student who pays her tuition with wages she earns from grooming horses. At the gas station Christina runs into Kevin of all people, because why would she ever run into him at oh, I don't know, Whitebrook? Kevin is dropping bitter hints all over the place about him and Lindsey not having such a hot relationship, so Christina says they should have lunch tomorrow and off she goes to Whitebrook to talk to Ashleigh.

Ashleigh and Christina are having a nice little bonding moment - Ashleigh apologizes about hating Star, etc. It's actually a nice scene - this book is full of nice scenes between Chris and her parents. Really, Mary stepped her game up here and really worked to put to rest some of the readers' complaints. She did a fairly decent job of it, too. Leagues better than the mother-daughter bonding catastrophe that was Derby Fever, anyway.

To get back to the plot, while Christina is talking to Ashleigh, Jessie suddenly appears, which puzzles Christina because it's not tomorrow yet. But oh well, Jessie has some perfectly unbelievable bullshit excuse about being the neighborhood, so Christina takes her out to Star's paddock and everyone is just thrilled because isn't this great.

Jessie leaves and Chris goes up to the house for dinner, and here we have another interesting character development moment. First, Christina compares Brad trying to foist Townsend Acres onto Parker with her parents trying to force Legacy and racing onto her. She realizes that there are a lot of similarities there, something that shocked me because well, it's true. But then Christina decides the difference is that her parents offered her a chance at racing, and when she decided to sell Legacy, they let her, and then when she decided to race, it was her decision. I suppose there's a point there somewhere, but this redeeming of her parents ruined it a bit for me, if only because I had to think of the horrible contrived mess that was Christina becoming a jockey. Anyway, then Christina goes in to help her father make dinner and they have a nice chat about her relationship with Ashleigh. It was nice to see Chris and Mike interacting - it was clear that he was the parent she got along with most from day one, but Mike sort of disappeared into the background or was written like a piece of driftwood found on the beach. So here we see some neat character development, plus Mike plays the sage and convinces Christina that Ashleigh really does know what she's doing when it comes to training Star.

As a result, Christina decides to follow her mother's training program to the letter...and actually does. Who knew? She works Star the next day in front of Jessie and all goes well, then off Chris goes to meet Kevin for pizza. Except who walks in right after Chris? Jessie! She sort of invites herself to lunch and orders the pizza without asking either Kevin or Chris what kind of pizza they like, something that pisses them both off. Kevin actually bitches about it to Jessie, but Chris decides Jessie was just trying to be nice. Because Christina is only capable of being a bitch when the situation does not call for it.

Blah blah, some things happen. Christina and Kevin go to Townsend Acres to visit Image and Brad is nice to them, so they are both appalled, as required. Kevin reveals he'll be going to Saratoga to help Ian train the horses there, which just shocks Christina because apparently Kevin hasn't been on a horse in years. Except for that time he helped Melanie train Image to win the Kentucky Derby three months ago.

Christina goes back to Saratoga to ride, but almost as soon a she lands Ashleigh calls her to let her know that someone's broken into the barn and Star's upset. Dear God no. Back Christina flies to Kentucky. She calms Star down, then decides to investigate the disturbance. You see, no one stole anything, but they did move stuff around. Christina walks into the tack room and someone has basically built a shrine to Star out of his tack and trophies. Yeah, that is pretty creepy, and I completely understand why Christina is freaked out. For once, this concern is warranted.

The next day Brad comes over to talk to Ashleigh, immediately making Christina suspicious that he is the one who came to build the Star Shrine because by now she's catching on to the fact that Brad creams his pants to creeping her out. Actually, it turns out Ashleigh wanted to get information on installing a security system at Whitebrook. Good thinking, Ashleigh. While they're talking, someone drops off a package for Christina and inside is a meticulously assembled scrapbook of Star featuring a picture of him taken the night of the break-in. No one knows who left it, of course, because there is a construction crew working on the stallion barn so Jesus himself could have walked on water in the stableyard and no one would have noticed him in all that commotion.

The solution is to move Star to Tall Oaks because whenever something goes wrong at Whitebrook this is always the solution. Apparently, it was also the solution to saving the TB series, what with the introduction of Allie and all except for that small thing in that IT DIDN'T WORK. IT ONLY MADE THINGS WORSE, YOU DUMB ASS. Sending Star to Tall Oaks makes equally little sense because that barn doesn't have a security system either. Also, Christina invites Jessie over for a trail ride so now Jessie knows Star is there and can continue to be all super creepy.

Just in the nick of time everyone goes to Saratoga, and Christina thinks all will be well. Everyone goes to a bar-b-que and smirks at Brad, who is there sitting at a picnic table, dressed nicely along with other people who are dressed nicely. Dear God, you idiots. You really are fucking hicks. Moving on, Christina goes back to the Star's stall and finds that someone has left a heart-shaped pin on his stall door made out of his tail hairs. After this she begins to see Jessie everywhere and can't concentrate on her races, because neither her nor Mel is EVER capable of paying attention when they're jockeying, so she pulls Star and brings him to Townsend Acres per Brad's offer to keep him safe.

Once there, Jessie shows up at the gate and demands to be let in, and Christina is finally able to put two and two together and realize that Jessie is the stalker. She is actually smart enough to admit that she was in denial about the whole thing all along. She tells Jessie to go away, and Jessie is pretty peeved. Didn't Christina like their "secret-pal gifts?" Hmm, guess not. This pisses Jessie off so much she moves to California. Now Star is safe from Jessie, but not from Brad Townsend, the only stalker Christina should actually be afraid of because unlike both Jessie and Christina, Brad is actually smart.

Points of Interest:
  • For those of you keeping score, our children's book big word of the day is irascible, meaning "marked by hot temper and easily provoked anger," as per Merriam-Webster's online dictionary. In this case it is being used to described Jinx. Nice word choice, Mary. Plus one.
  • Also, from the woman who brought you irascible, may I present natatorium.
  • Brad tells Christina he doesn't understand the passion she has for her horses. What? Okay, did losing Townsend Prince really damage him that much? Was he the only character in the series that promised never to love horses again who actually followed through? I mean, seriously, what?
  • The scene where Ashleigh and Christina sit on the farmhouse's front porch and watch a thunderstorm together is absolutely adorable and probably one of the better NewGen scenes ever written.
And there you have it. Honestly, I think this is Mary's best book. When I gave it a positive review upon it's initial release, someone on the wbf.com message board accused me of saying it just because my name is in it. Nope, not at all. In this book Christina and her parents work out some of their demons, Christina is the most mature and tolerable she's ever been, before or since, and the plot actually...makes sense. Jessie is pretty intolerable, but she's actually supposed to be, and Mary does a convincing job of writing a stalker. It may seem crazy and irrational but, you know, that's what stalkers are. Also, this book saw the return of Kevin, which I don't think anyone can complain about, and was the real beginning of the end for Melanie and Jazz, another change everyone here should celebrate. Plus, Jinx is only mentioned like, twice, and Allie isn't yet even a fart growing in Jennifer Chu's bowls. In fact, the most annoying part of the book is the famous horse part. The rest is at the very least pleasantly entertaining. And that is saying a lot.


Mara said...

I think now is the appropriate time to admit that I always thought it was a little weird that this book was dedicated to you. Because it was about a stalker. I didn't know that Mary hadn't anticipated this book for your dedication at the time, so while I thought this was always pretty cool of her, I couldn't help wondering if it was a backhanded compliment also.

I am glad to know it wasn't her decision. Also, this book isn't that bad. The Bold Ruler thing gets totally lost in the mix, but I guess that's the point and I'm happy for it.

sundae_mourning said...

i didn't care for this book initially, but it definitely grew on me and i saw how good it really was, and how Mary really tried to give fans what they wanted. you actually see Christina and Star's bond, instead of just being told they were inseparable. and i'm glad this book got your dedication, as opposed to the drek that is Derby Fever.

the lack of security at these farms really baffles me though. even if Tall Oaks and Whitebrook aren't "Thoroughbred Fortresses" with the quality of horses they have, you would think they'd at least have a couple night watchmen. it's like they said when Alydar was killed..."they couldn't shell out $7.50 an hour to protect multimillion dollars' worth of horseflesh?"

and has anyone else noticed how the Travers seems to be cursed for Wonder and her offspring? it sort of bums me out because that's my race.

Anonymous said...

I never really was crazy for this book, and put off a long time trying to NOT read it, but eventually gave into it...

I found 'Starstruck' to be one of the most unrealistic books of the TB New-Gen series. I think the stalker plot was watered down for children's sake, I suppose? I've never actually heard of anyone being so obsessed with a horse they'd stalk them. What about Christina? If she's in the public eye so much, I'm sure some loopy-brained person would begin idolizing/fantasizing over her...at least... Or, oh wait, did the publishers over at Harper Collins think that was too graphic? It would have made the situations more understandable and Christina's racing stress a bit more plausible.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this website, and, as someone who was a fan of this series as a child, I'm finding your reviews absolutely hilarious (and also incredibly accurate, as recently I went back and read one, and...yeah).

On the college thing, though: it's actually 100% realistic that Christina would have to meet with a counselor and register in person because that's what I did, at community college and also when I transferred to a four year university. Just for the first term, though. After that I could register online the moment it opened up to my year.