Jul 28, 2008

A Visit from the Ghost of Christmas Ugh.

Ghost of Thistle Ridge
Allison Estes
The Short Stirrup Club #2
Published: 1996

I should have made this post a few days ago, back when I was still filled with righteous anger. Well, I don't know how righteous it was, and it wasn't really anger so much as apathy. But here we go.

This book is dumb. I don't really think it's trying to be serious or intelligent. It's supposed to be a book that entertains and delights young readers by sending willies up and down their spines. Let's see. In 1996 I was 11, still young enough to be terrified of ghosts, aliens, and Satan from Fantasia. So I probably saw the title of this book and got willies up and down my spine, even if I knew better. I still believe in ghosts, but this book takes it to a whole new level of bat shit insane, and if it was trying to make any sort of serious point then, well, it's more dumb then I thought. Because I think you're going to be as enraged as I am at the thought that this book might be meant as something one should take seriously in any way whatsoever. And as I didn't remember any plot points prior to the reread, clearly my 11 year old self was not at all impressed by the crazy shenanigans of Doppleganger Christina Reese and her Motley Crew of Retarded Children.

When last we left Thistle Ridge or Thistle Creek or Thistle Poop, or whatever the name of this barn/town in whatever southern state it was that these children were relocated to, Megan Christina Reese had finally found a friend and Max Christina Reese's Twin Brother had finally come to terms with this huge traumatic move. Also, some idiot girl named Amanda Pathetic Veronica diAngelo rode like a robot and almost killed her pony because Rich Ass Hole Dad didn't want to save him, but that's okay because for some unfathomable reason Awkward Probably Fat Best Friend Chloe got to keep him. Also there's Keith. He's ethnic. I hope I'm not forgetting anyone.

As this book opens, the appallingly named Short Stirrup Club is playing horseback tag in one of the paddocks at Thistle Poop. This involves galloping wildly over hill and dale and also through the woods, which seems kind of dangerous to me. Further, one of those sudden southern thunderstorms is billowing in the distance, though really not that far and not that suddenly because you know, the kids notice it and keep playing anyway. Chloe isn't riding Cripple Pony Jump for Joy because as I just mentioned, he's a cripple. Instead she's riding the school pony Bo Peep, whom Adult Riding Princess Poops Gold Instructor Sharon has no problem loaning out to this girl freely to do with what she wants because she trusts Chloe. This sounds like no other school barn on earth that I have ever heard of, and I simply don't believe it.

Moving on, Megan is it, so she decides to let her pony, Pixie, find the other horses, and drops the reins to let her wander uninhibited. Pixie finds a deer, but instead of spooking and crazily galloping back to the barn she decides to follow the deer into the forest. Also, this deer has a fawn with her, which makes it even more inexplicable that she is not terrified of the horse/human creature she has suddenly come across. I suppose I can kind of buy this - I live in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, which are teeming with deer if you didn't know. They can be pretty nonchalant around people if they think you're not a threat. And when they spend so much time in populated areas, that = pretty damn nonchalant. What I find unbelievable about this particular scenario is that the deer and her baby lead Megan into the woods, where the deer begins hacking at a pile of stone with her hooves. After uncovering something totally sparkley she runs away into the woods, and when Megan investigates she discovers that she's found a locket with some initials on it and a giant diamond on the front. Totally normal. Then she sees her brother in the woods and they run off toward base.

At the tree all the kids are busy looking at the locket when the thunderstorm suddenly unleashes its heavenly furry and they all must gallop back to the barn, which for some reason means going through the woods instead of taking the most direct route through the pastures. Maybe they thought it was safer to be under trees than out in the open during thunderstorms. Unfortunately this doesn't really work for them, seeing as lightening strikes a tree, which then almost falls on Chloe and Bo Peep. These children certainly lead a charmed life, no?

Back at the barn after this highly improbable incident, i bambini remember the locket and Megan digs it out. She's able to open it because all the rain has washed away the dirt, and inside there's a picture of an old timey lady, and a small key. Just then Chloe interjects that you know, maybe someone might be looking for this precious object, so Megan reluctantly turns it in to Jake. He says they'll advertise it and if no one claims it in a week, it's hers to keep. This seems kind of, oh, I don't know, like a short amount of time to wait and see if someone is going to claim a locket with a huge diamond on the front of it. But oh well.

Luckily for us, our hearts and Megan's don't have long to mourn because it's off to horse camp! Hurrah! This being the 18 millionth horse camp book I've read for this blog. It must be some sort of law that every children's horse series must have a camp book or off with the author's head. Or maybe it's forced sterilization. Anyway, this horse camp resembles the horse camps I attended in that it's only a day camp replete with guided trail rides and hokey arts and crafts while the regular operation of the stables are not disrupted. Except at this camp I hope that leasers did not show up to find campers riding their horses when they were not supposed to be. Stupid bastards. This is something I'm still bitter about because those instructors were bitches and it's not my fault they couldn't read a schedule. But I should bring my personal life into this, as there is enough to rage at in this book alone.

Because our main characters are all the same age, they are in the same group in camp. And apparently they are also the only ones their age, except for Amanda, who is also in their group and inexplicably participating in camp. A lot of this book is inexplicable, really, which is why I keep using that word. Anyway, Amanda has a new horse, named Prince Charming, who is just way too much for her to handle. This horse is a general nuisance really, and enjoys running away constantly, especially after dumping Amanda. So it's no real surprise when, on the trail ride the group goes on, he runs into a blueberry bush. Amanda gets caught by her hair and when Prince runs out from under her she gets dumped on her ass and off the horse goes into the hills. Luckily Jake is there in his truck for some reason I can't remember, so he drives Amanda back to the barn and then goes to look for the missing horse while the non-snotty kids go riding in a lake.

This is just oodles of fun, but afterward they decide they'll try to help Jake find Prince Charming and ride off into the woods. They run across an old, old barn which none of them, including the instructor, have ever seen before. It is so creepy everyone almost pees themselves, and it's a good thing they didn't because that surely would have ruined their saddles. As they're riding away, Megan turns around and sees a tall white thing standing in the door. A ghost! Holy crap!

This causes great consternation among the Short Stirrup Club, as you can imagine, and it's made even worse during lunch when two older campers tell them a ghost story wherein the barn is haunted by a young girl who was killed in a fire. Terrified, the children decide the best thing to do is go to this barn after dark without telling any of the adults where they are going to see if they can find the ghost that Megan is pretty sure she saw. To prove that they were lying and are not scared, the two older kids agree to go along. Honestly, teenagers.

So off they go unsupervised into the woods, alone at night in a place they are not so familiar with. They manage to make it back to the barn, and one of the older kids drags Megan inside with him, where they encounter a tall white thing with glowing blue eyes who moans at them. This scares no one more than the older kid, who shits his pants and runs away. Megan follows suit, and it turns out everyone has run in different directions. Finally Megan bumps into Jake, still out looking for Prince Charming. He goes back to the barn after hearing her story and sure enough, the ghost is the horse. Well isn't that a relief.

Everyone is generally pissed that these children have gone off and done something so retarded, but despite that the kids decide the best thing to do is go on a moonlight trail ride back to the barn. The adults immediately capitulate, of course, having already forgotten how totally pissed off they were at these kids 5 minutes ago for doing what was basically the same thing sans horses. There is one stipulation: Amanda has to go with them because she is part of their camp group. This is really the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Everyone on the farm knows this girl is a terrible rider on a horse that is way too much for her, so of course they decide it's a good idea to let her go on a trail ride on said horse at night in the woods. No, I take that back. Not just a trail ride, an overnight. Fairy Princess Instructor Sharon may be a Mary Sue, but she is really not bright, and these kids are just as spoiled as any character in the TB Series. Hence, Megan Christina Reese.

So off they go on the trail ride to camp out at the old barn. Once there, Jake tells them a ghost story about how Thistle Poop used to be a plantation with slaves prior to the Civil War. This isn't really a shock, if you want to be historically realistic, but it is pretty amazing that a children's book not explicitly about slavery is directly mentioning this issue and even its brutality and cruelty. So points to Estes. Getting back to the ghost story, this girl had a pony she loved to visit every night, a little white pony just like Pixie! And she was Megan's age! Gasp. Then one night her parents left her alone in their house and lightening struck it and set it on fire. A slave tried to climb in the house and save the girl, but the cruel evil overseer thought he was trying to stage a rebellion (by climbing into a burning building?) and shot him. Hence the girl died and she roams the night. Sadness all around. Megan decides the locket she found probably came from the house, and then they all go to sleep.

Except, you know, the weather hates everyone in this book, past and present, so it decides to pour rain and everyone has to go hide in the barn. Where Megan promptly sees another "ghost" that is obviously Amanda in her nightgown, illuminated by lightening, but we're not supposed to grasp this yet, so don't tell anyone I let the cat out of the bag prematurely.

The next morning everyone awakens to find that Amanda and Prince Charming are missing and nowhere to be found. Sweet Jesus, not again. After checking all the blueberry brambles, they are still nowhere to be found. So all the children decide to go off into the woods, again without telling anyone, and this time bareback, to search for Amanda and the horse. They also decide to split up. Then Pixie bolts and jumps into a graveyard that has no gate. There Megan discovers a headstone marked with the same initials as the ones on the locket, and so now she knows that an 11 year old girl did live on the property. Then she tries to get Pixie to jump out of the graveyard but can't because something is howling under the stairs. Thankfully Prince Charming shows up and out they jump. And if you think this shit is whack, really I haven't even gotten to the completely crazy part yet.

Megan rides back to the old barn and climbs up into the loft, where she finds an ancient diary from 1849. Turns out it's the diary of the girl who died in the fire. The diary is almost completely legible, though some parts are water stained beyond comprehension. How this is physically possible and why this thing is in the barn are both a mystery, the secrets of which are never revealed because to rationalize this situation would make no sense. Anyway, the diary is locked, but Megan has the key in the locket, so if there was any doubt about the connection there certainly is none now. The diary details the girl's life, receiving the locket and her pony, and the hiring of the cruel overseer. Then we learn that this girl and her mother worked on the Underground Railroad to free the slaves. There is a trap door in one of the stalls in the barn that leads to a tunnel which in turns opens up under the stairs in the graveyard, which is why the place had no gate: to hide the secret entrance. The bad news is that when it rains the tunnel floods with water and everyone in it dies. Oops.

Then Megan realizes that Amanda must have fallen into the tunnel and crawled all the way to the other side, where she stood howling under the stairs. She races back to the graveyard on foot because both Pixie and Prince Charming have bolted. Then the horses show up just in time for Megan to climb on Prince Charming bareback with a bridle made from a halter and an old piece of rope so that she can jump into the graveyard. Then she has Prince Charming pull Amanda out of the flooding tunnel by the rope and they both bravely jump out of the graveyard on Prince Charming's bareback.


Later everyone goes back to look for the diary, but it's disappeared, of course. Everyone tells Megan she's crazy, but she looks out the window and waves at a tree because she wants everyone to think she's waving at a ghost so they won't send her to the loony bin. This was probably a stupid idea all around, but we should all feel better knowing the ghost of a girl who asphyxiated that helped free slaves is looking out for other girls who fall into trap doors and get caught in tunnels that have a propensity to flood and kill their occupants. The end.

I have the third book of this series, so I'll probably review it, too. I just hope there are no more ghosts. I don't think I could take it.


sundae_mourning said...

i just about choked over the hilarity of all your names.

Mara said...

Wow, Megan is definitely Christina Reese. It seems so clear now.