Jul 21, 2008

Why do I keep reviewing these books?

The Christmas Colt
Mallory Stevens
Published 1992

Despite my best instincts, which tell me I am burned out on children's books reviews and should probably take a break, I keep getting bored and reading them and then feel like a failure for not living up to the task of sharing my adventures here, with you. I'm sure this is a sign of my deep-seated insecurities or something equally psychological that keep trained professionals employed, but oh well. I need something to keep me occupied between now and when I see The Dark Knight again.
A very special Christmas...and a gift she'll never forget.

At thirteen, Chrissie can't wait to take part in her family's tradition: raising a foal of her own in preparation for the annual yearling auction. On Christmas Day, Chrissie watches the birth of the Thoroughbred colt she expects to be given. But when she finally gets her new horse, she's in for a surprise. Instead of the horse she expected, Chrissie finds the scraggly newborn colt of a second-best mare.

Chrissie names the awkward animal Klutz and claims she can't wait for the auction that will rid her of this gangly beast. But Klutz seems to know how Chrissie feels. The less Chrissie expects, the harder Klutz struggles to prove himself - until one day Chrissie sees that Klutz has grown into a proud, beautiful yearling. Now Chrissie faces a terrible dilemma: how can she stop her parents from selling the horse she has grown to love?
Eh....not really.

So here's another book I totally coveted as a child thanks to its constant and prominent display on those back-of-the-book order forms. I'm sure many of you can relate. I probably read this one before I read The Palomino, and I can't really remember my initial reaction to this book other than once again I'm pretty sure it was blah because I never felt the urge to read it again.

Chrissie's family owns a farm where they breed show-jumping Thoroughbreds to sell at auction every year. They also board horses, but they're very well known for being the best at breeding these kind of horses ever, and everyone wants a piece. There's something weird and insular about Stevens' world - it seems like the whole family business is kind of a fudge. Does this sort of thing really happen? Does what is basically a sporthorse breeding facility ever turn into something that sounds like a top notch Thoroughbred racing breeding farm? I really have no idea, to be quite honest. But even if it does, something here smells all funny.

At Chrissie's farm, the big tradition is that when you turn 13, you get your very own foal to train for a year, and when it's sold at the big winter auction you get to keep part of the profits. This tradition was started by Chrissie's grandfather, and she watched her older brother get his yearling, and she's been anticipating this experience her whole life. With the money she'll finally be able to buy that show jumper she's always wanted, because on this farm that breeds show jumpers, no one thought to ever maybe keep one or two and rasie them themselves for the family to ride. Which would also act as good advertisements on the show circuit, but like I said, this book is weird. There are family riding horses, but they're old and sucky, so old and sucky Chrissie can't even jump on them, which makes no sene to me because how is she showing in hunter jumper classes then? Anyway.

Chrissie's favorite horse on the farm is Excellence, a black (of course) Thoroughbred mare who also happens to be the farm's blue hen. Chrissie isn't allowed to groom the mare or anything, being too young. Actually, she's not allowed to really touch any of the horses in the barn and is relegated to carrying halters and cleaning tack, or perhaps mucking out stalls, which makes me wonder how she will be qualified to train a foal all by her lonesome, but that's beside the point. These rules don't keep her from stuffing Excellence with treats and checking up on her every second in anticipation of the foal's birth when she's not dreaming about raising the foal.

I'll take this time to mention that the farm's one rule, other than Chrissie don't touch the horses, is, "don't get attached." If you know the foals are going to be sold, don't get attached. This is why being able to raise a foal by yourself once you turn 13 is such a test of maturity, I suppose. It is a test of the ability to successfully detach oneself from natural emotions and to repress them to the point of dementia, a mode of thinking that cleary dates back from 1953 and is neither healthy nor realistic. Yeah it is a business and yeah you have to sell your horses to make ends meet, but to me this test of manhood which Chrissie's father is about to inflict upon his thirteen year old daughter is kind of endlessly cruel and will no doubt be traumatizing.

This aside, the first half of the book is basically exposition, and because I know the whole plot of the book just from reading the synopsis, I spent a lot of time wondering when things were just going to happen already. Chrissie spends a lot of time at the mall, despite the fact that she hates it, and you know, I am really tired of our main characters hating the mall and not understanding why their friends like boys. Up until I was about 14 I hated the mall too. Do you know why? Learned behavior from reading it over and over in these books. I guess it's not a bad lesson to learn, but when you're reading these books for literary effect the lack of originality in this tired character trait is really quite striking. And as for boys, I pretty much have been aware of them my whole life. I had a boyfriend when I was four. It doesn't make you weak, I swear to god.

Anyway, Excellence has her foal, which Chrissie witnesses this because she sleeps in the mare's stall (she's not allowed to really handle the horses, but she can sleep in the stall of an agitated mare who's going to foal?). She then names the foal Outstanding because, well, isn't he just? These two names really irritate me and I have filed them away under the category, "Wonder's Champion." I suppose they're not that bad, but really.

Everyone knows how much Chrissie loves Excellence and Outstanding, so there's no way that this foal won't end up in her care, right? Wrong. Turns out that someone has convinced Chrissie's parents that the future of sporthorse breeding lies in Anglo-Arabs, so they've crossbred a lot of their mares with an Arabian stallion. And everyone just has a boner for one of the foals, Squire Boy, who of course is the colt Chrissie gets instead of Outstanding. First of all, Chrissie has been treating Outstanding like a pet instead of a commodity, a big no-no in this family. Brad Townsend would love them. Then Chrissie's dad turns around and tells her that all the foals on the farm are equally worthy of love and attention, which flies completely in the face of what he just said about not treating your horse with love and affection. Also, Chrissie is a midget and because Squire's Boy is small, he will be easier for Chrissie to handle. Finally, as David points out, her parents really think they're honoring her by making her responsible for the big future of the farm. Plus, won't it be easier to sell a horse she doesn't like? Yeah, that gets Chrissie going and she finally sort of decides to go along with it. Except she decides to rename the horse Klutz because she really kind of hates him and adjective names like Dumbass probably wouldn't have been acceptable to her parents.

Except for the first three months of Klutz's life she basically ignore him and lets him stand around in his own filth, which makes her dad really angry. He yells at her, so Chrissie promises to work with Klutz, more out of fear that she won't make the money to buy her jumper or be entrusted with one of the farm's horses ever again than realizing that it's not really nice or legal to ignore a horse in such a manner. As she's swallowing this she finds out her best friend, Debbie, is going to move to California, which means she will have no friends because the other two girls in her super time fun group will be going to a different high school. How will she survive?

Fall in love with Klutz of course. She goes a little crazy from lack of human interaction and spends all her time talking to Klutz, and becomes convinced that he understands her and is talking back through equine body language, something else we are all familiar with. She even decides not to go to California to visit Debbie because Klutz needs her, though really it's because she loves Klutz and wants to spend every second with him. As auction day grows closer and closer she gets really frantic and demands that everyone she know help her find a way to keep Klutz (except her parents, because she fears the emotional abuse she will receive if they know she's acting like a human being instead of squashing her feelings into a little pellet and hiding it deep within the recesses of her soul where she will never find it again). Too bad for her everyone seems too distracted to help her out.

So off they go to the auction and Klutz is sold and Chrissie is completely devestated and starts acting like any depressed teenager being forced to bludgeon her feelings to death with a wooden baseball bat would. Her father tries to cheer her up with her cut of the profits, but she doesn't want her jumper any more. Her bitter, teenage anger is already seething, unbeknownst to her whole family.

Christmas rolls around and everyone opens presents and Chrissie actually begins to feel a little better, but it turns out that her parents have one more present for her. Gee, what could it be? Out they go to the paddock and of course it's Klutz. What happened is that Chrissie's parents bought Klutz at the auction themselves...from themselves, I guess because they thought it would be neat to emtionally devestate their daughter by tricking her into thinking her horse was sold just so they could have the satisfaction of seeing her shitting her pants with joy when they made him her Christmas present. This girl is going to have so many issues that it's not even funny. But all is well now because Chrissie and Klutz are reuinted and someday they will win lots of shows or something equally spectacular.

Points of Interest:
  • When going to the auction at the beginning of the book, Chrissie's job is to clean the tack of all the weanlings going to sale. Since when do weanlings have tack? What kind of operation are these people running here?
  • Chrissie tries lunging Klutz before he's even weaned and gets really frustrated with him when it doesn't go successfully. Gee, I wonder why? Isn't he too young to be trained like that? Oh, why yes he is. You just said so yourself.
  • With his college education, David decides that he should convince his father to computerize the farm's business aspect, something David's father scoffs at because this is 1992, after all. Lord how I love technophobia.
Okay. I really should take a break now, but I probably won't. Overall this book gets 5 stars out of 10. It's not totally offensive, but it's not too exciting. Mostly it's just...weird.


molly said...

I remember this book really well, which is weird, because I didn't like it at all as a kid and only read it once. Chrissie's family freaked me out, and I thought Chrissie was a little bitch.

Also, why the fuck would they have given Excellence's foal to a teenager who'd never touched a horse before, basically? Makes no sense. NONE of it makes sense. I mean, it really does make sense that Chrissie wouldn't be allowed to fool around with the horses, but to then give a foal to her all, here, figure this out, don't screw it up and for god's sake don't love this horse? What the HELL?

Don't burn yourself out - I need this blog! Where else am I going to find out the names of obscure books I vaguely remember from childhood and want to add to my collection?

Have you guys ever thought about doing the Saddle Club series once you're done with Thoroughbred? Heck, I'd do it myself but I figure no one would read it.

Claire said...

haha, thank you for the encouragement! your comments rally do mean a lot to all of us!

i think mara has signed someone up exclusively to do saddle club reviews, but so far she hasn't started yet. hopefully she'll read your comment and be encouraged :d

and yes...the premise of this book is dumb, and the characters are even more dumb, and her dad is just scary. i guess there's a reason it was so hard to track down!

Elizabeth said...

@claire: I will, I will! I'll have more time once I'm done with my last assignment for school. We're on break from August 2 to 25, and I am SO EXCITED.

And as for the book itself ... yeah, I wanted this one SO BADLY when I was little and it (and none of the others advertised in the back of TB) never turned up at any local bookstores. I was about 19 before I obtained a copy, and it was nowhere near as good as I thought it would be. Also, apparently that Along the Wild River/Across the Dangerous Trail/Over the Rugged Mountain trilogy is not about Girl Scouts riding horses at summer camp, but about boys on the Oregon Trail. Who knew?