Jul 13, 2008

Wearing tight pants and liking it is Dylan's Choice, and who are we to judge him?

Dylan's Choice
Thoroughbred #30
by Dale Gasque
Published: 1998

As we've discovered during the course of this blog, Dale Gasque is probably the best author of the New Generation. After all she's a librarian. Therefore I suppose this isn't shocking. However, just as I feel compelled to pat Gale on the back for her attempts to bring sanity to the Thoroughbred Series with her librarian sense and so forth, I still have to rip this book to shreds. Because this is what I do for fun. Let's take a look at this....

I have little to say about this cover, really, besides the fact that I always thought Christina and Dylan looked like munchkins. If you take Christina off that horse and stick her on the ground, she'd come up to about mid-shoulder on Dakota, and since we go on and on about her being tall I highly doubt that Dakota is the largest horse on the freaking earth. It is the first time in a while that a scene from the book makes it onto the cover, but that is really where the interesting points end and the dull, mundane qualities take over. If we want to nitpick, I can't help but stare at their shoes. Really, the footwear is pretty far off the mark. Also, it looks like someone has used the grass to hide the fact that horses do actually have hooves. Otherwise, you know, whatever.

Will Dylan give up riding for good?

Dylan Becker used to be one of Christina Reese's best friends. They like to do all the same things. He even loved horses as much as she did! But lately, Dylan has been spending more time playing soccer than riding his horse, Dakota. In fact, he's thinking of giving up riding entirely--only little girls like horses, he says.

Christina can't believe it. Has Dylan really outgrown his love of riding? Even worse, has he outgrown their friendship?
The summary is remarkably true to the book. Dylan, like, enjoys other things. He, you know, might want to be well rounded when he grows up. But what is Christina to do? Why can't all her friends be as two-dimensional and narrowly focused as she is? What is a poor, twelve-year-old to do?

That's basically the book. It opens up with Christina being so thrilled that she's having a perfect summer with her perfect horse and her perfect horse-loving friends. Oh, things are so perfectly perfect that this will probably be the high point of her life if Christina isn't very careful. She takes some time to remark to herself how wonderful it is that her friends like what she likes, because having friends who might force her to think outside her carefully constructed box and introduce her to the evil ways of the non-horsey world would be too shocking to fully comprehend. Therefore you see the set up: if one of her friends were to develop an interest in something else and have to juggle their time between what Christina likes and what they also like all hell could potentially break loose. ALL HELL.

That said, let's introduce everyone (again) to Chad. Dale Gasque seems to have some trouble in this department almost immediately, because Chad comes off as a very immature fifteen. He's actually twelve, which is probably the root of my problem with this book. Everyone acts like they're teenagers. Ashleigh even refers to them as teenagers. They are twelve (well, Melanie is thirteen, but you'd never know this and a couple of books ago she was referred to as twelve, so who knows), and after all that happens in this book I am absolutely convinced that Dale Gasque was writing this book with fifteen-year-old kids in mind because SINCE WHEN do twelve-year-olds have Adam's apples and broad shoulders? Is it even possible to have broad shoulders when you're twelve? Is this something twelve-year-old girls look for in twelve-year-old boys or is this just very, very disturbing to all people in general?

Getting back to the plot, Chad is this random kid that Dylan knows and he's all challenging the masculinity of all men (be they twelve or not, I'm sure) in a fifty mile radius. He's just oozing testosterone from every pore, which obviously is going to have ramifications for all involved. Instantly Dylan feels his own tween male identity threatened by the fact that Chad is on a dirt bike and he is in sissy breeches and perched on a castrated horse. Poor, poor Dylan. Then Chad merely smiles at Katie and she is smitten. So the rest of the book involves Christina being dumped in some form or fashion by her bestest friends for this dirt bike riding pseudo fifteen-year-old. You can imagine her frustration.

So because Chad is cool and Dylan wears tight pants, we have this whole dirt bike drama that continues on for many pages. Instead of going out on a horseback ride with Christina, Dylan brings Chad's evil dirt bike and carts her around on that. Christina immediately grows frustrated because she's not the one driving and demands that Dylan teach her to drive so she can cart him around. (Can you see the early trauma developing? Can you?) He teaches her and doesn't tell Chad about this because that would mean he just handed his balls to a girl, and only tweens who wear tight pants would let that happen.

As Chad becomes more and more integrated into the group (learning how to ride to a point that he can get to a river bareback so they can play some sexually frustrated game of chicken in appropriately glossed over Thoroughbred Series standards), Christina becomes more and more upset by the fact that Chad is wooing Dylan away so they can play soccer together and be involved in team sports that build character instead of dutifully doing whatever Christina demands. Chad is fucking up Christina's perfect summer, is the long and the short of it.

So while Christina just stands there and waits for Dylan to become a man and accept whatever fate she's designed for him, he becomes increasingly agitated by the fact that he is not a man (as close as a tween can come to being a man, anyway) and lets this be known in a truly comic display of fucking up repeatedly. Fucking up because he didn't want a girl to beat him in a show jumping contest? Check. Beating up his horse because the horse wouldn't jump a supposedly tricky jump? Check. Yelling "blast off!" while starting a cross country course and subsequently making his horse fall down? Check!

He's well on his way to proving himself to be completely incompetent before he forgets to put galloping boots on Dakota for the show jumping event and winds up cutting his horse up before dumping him with Christina so he can make his soccer play offs. Christina delivers some horrible ultimatum involving forcing Dylan to chose. He can only have one interest, like her, damn it! He got himself into this horrible mess of having two priorities and/or sports he likes and he'll just have to decide which is more important and focus on being driven and humorless like she is. And oh, yeah, she'll take care of Dakota when he decides to go make his own decisions and leaves for the soccer game. Christina is a slave to her one interest, after all. If it involves a horse she's there with bells on. Unless it's racing. In which case she recoils in horror and starts snapping at anyone who will listen that she likes EVENTING. Say it with her. EVENTING.

Anyway, Dylan wins his little soccer tournament and looks all down about it. Deciding between two things any normal person could do with time to spare with a freakishly demanding sort of girlfriend pushing her opinions around with flagrant disregard of anyone's true wishes is hard, after all. Eventually he decides that no, he will not play soccer next year. He will never play soccer again! Christina is happy and Dylan points out to Chad that men are, like, all over in show jumping, and Chad accepts this one line of information and shrugs with a sudden acceptance that is so unlike his character the rest of the time that Dale Gasque really rewrote the Thoroughbred anticlimax. Wonder's Champion has nothing on this book.


  • Just to reiterate, I really cannot believe we're supposed to accept that these kids are twelve. You know how Stacey was always going through boys in The Babysitters-Club and that was supposed to be normal? This eclipses that.
  • The whole swimming in the river thing? Okay, I give you this gem of a line: After ignoring her at first, he finally ducked back down so she could get off. And yes that does involve ducking between Christina's legs.
  • So Dylan gets a lot of grief for liking horses, but Kevin doesn't because "horses are in his blood." You know what it could be? Perhaps Dylan is just a loser and Kevin isn't? Because I don't think kids really differentiate why it's acceptable to make fun of one kid but not the other when they are practically the same people with different names (for all we know).
  • On this same note, Mike suddenly had it hard when he was a kid because he was a boy and liked horses. I do not see this happening at all. It's like someone making fun of Brad for liking horses when he was a kid. Can you see that happening? If someone made fun of Brad for any reason he'd probably file that instance away somewhere and then come back later to financially ruin said person, and he'd laugh with glee while he did it.
  • This book reads like the editors wanted to see if they could market the Thoroughbred Series to boys. I can't see where this book is supposed to appeal to girls. As it is, Christina's attitude is startlingly old fashioned, and she comes off as entirely too domineering and territorial while Dylan shows some completely unflattering inclinations of throwing punches when he gets angry. Nice characteristics for our twelve-year-old heroes to have all around, right?
Well, that's Dylan's Choice. It was minorly more entertaining than the last few installments I've gone through, but mainly in a totally unintentional way. I think I've got some more adventures with Bonnie and Julie of A Horse Called Bonnie next, and then more with the New Generation with A Home for Melanie. Going on that book's cover, I've always wanted to know how Trib wound up in Central Park. I'm sure it was remarkably inefficient and for stunningly pointless reasons.

(Want more? Claire's review of Dylan's Choice is here.)


Monique said...

I actually taught a boy to ride who loved this series. Oddly, this book was his favourite. :P

Anonymous said...

Don't you know? If you love horses, you CAN'T balance your horse hobby and another hobby. It has to be all horses. If you say, like writing or graphic design, you have to forget that, or you're not horse crazy.

Christina would shit her pants if she saw that I didn't spend all my week in Chicago at Arlington Park (just 1\3 of it). And that I'm not going to be a jockey or a horse farm owner but a graphic designer.

But really, the attitude in nearly all horse books that having outside interests fucks things up made me really blow my top.