Jul 28, 2008

Yet Another Star-Studded Story

Star of Shadowbrook Farm
By Joanna Campbell
Published: August 1992
Republished as Ashleigh's Thoroughbred Collection: May 1998

Alas, the public library system has failed me. Well, not really. It's just that some requested books are still in transit, so it might be a few more days yet before I receive them. I was doing some non-horsey (even though technically the book has horses in it) extra-curricular reading, but while reading Zorro: A Novel by Isabel Allende, I just caught a pretty strong whiff of the ripe smell of Mary Sue. As it turns out, there's a girl character in the book named Isabel. And I'm gathering that as I progress farther into the novel, she's going to know exactly who Zorro is and is going to use a sword herself, and likely ride by his side to help him fight Eeeeeevil! HA! Don't get me wrong, I adore the story of Zorro -- I'm a California girl, he's like our version of Batman and Robin Hood all rolled up into one -- but I think for the sake of my sanity, I needed to take a very quick respite from the toils of Zorro: A Novel, and do a book review.

I have a confession to make. Are you ready to hear it? Really ready? Well, here goes... I am a lazy ass. I repeat, I am a lazy ass. Instead of making myself do a tough 5 or so minutes of scanning the cover of the copy that I have, did a quick Google search, found that monstrosity, and called it a day. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful cover, or it would be, were it not for the fucking huge monstrosity that reads: ASHLEIGH'S THOROUGHBRED COLLECTION. Just clutters the whole thing up. That aside, I'm muchly glad that my copy is from the first printing six years prior to this, and therefore doesn't look like a butt-ugly eyesore. I always liked the balance of color and motion on the page; although I've always wondered where they are, since there's so much space behind them, it's too large for a stall.

Can Susan ever ride again?

Susan has fallen off her horses before. After all, she's been riding since she was young. But this last spill was different. Susan only broke her wrist, but she knows it could have been a lot worse for her or the horse. And it was her own fault. Now, just thinking about riding terrifies her.

Then Evening Star comes to the horse farm where Susan lives. Star's elegant gait and graceful stride show he could become a champion jumper. But he was mistreated by his former owner, and as a result he trust no one in the stable except Susan. Susan knows that only she can make Star a winner, but she also knows that she isn't ready to ride again...

Here we go! The timeless classic tale of a horse-crazy girl who gets badly rattled by a traumatic fall, and it takes a very special horse to help get her back in the saddle. And of course, that horse was mistreated by his past (and I'll raise the ante because you just know he was whipped!) and she has to help him so he can help her. Bully!

So our story begins with Susan walking into the Shadowbrook Farm stable office to collect her hard hat so she can go teach an intermediate jump class. We're then treated to a whole internal monologue about how Susan hates teaching this class because of this totally popular little bitch named Tara Pendleton, who is, I suppose your usual arch-nemesis the likes of Diana Carruthers, and Veronica DiAngelo (y'know, popular, pretty, rich -- maybe -- all the stuff that our valient heroines are not) and how different Susan feels from her because Tara is being treated like a sex object by the boys in their class, and yadda, yadda, blah blah. So off Susan goes to her lesson, maliciously hoping that Tara has caught Dengue Fever or Syphilis, but sucks to be her because Miss Pretty Bitch is just fine.

Now, this always was a perplexing issue for me, but the majority of the students in Susan's intermediate jumping class are all in their teens, thereabouts. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but most teenagers seem to be of the rather competitive nature. To be taught how to jump by a girl the same age as them must really be irritating, yet apparently nobody (not even Tara the Queen Bitch if you're you believe Susan) has possibly whined to any parents who then flip out about a teenager teaching their Pwecious! I mean, yeah, obviously Susan has to help teach lessons, but can't she I dunno, take on leadliners or something? Little short stirrup up/downers. Someone to whom your average 7 year-old can look up to, instead of potentially raising the ire of parents who pay all this money for their kid's riding lessons only to have a girl their own age teaching them. Also, Joanna described Susan's students as having "been jumping for several months" which means they've probably just graduated out of doing trot poles, and threfore shouldn't be considered "intermediate" jumpers. But it's a minor quibble I suppose.

Anyway, Susan rides a green horse named Jocko in her riding lesson. The hell, what is this, karmic retribution or something? Remember the exercise rider in Wonder's Promise? What'd he do, die and be reincarnated as a horse? Now, I've never really seen an instructor in the saddle while on a horse, particularly in a group lesson, and most especially while jumping. I mean, what if some student of hers clips a rail and brings it down? There's a pretty damn obvious reason why instructors are usually ground-bound, which ought to be a no-brainer. But clearly, this reasoning fails Susan, and during the midst of teaching, Tara takes over with her !witty commentary, and this sends Susan into a towering rage that she screams at Tara to "Butt out!" (And this is why 14 year old children should not teach other 14 year old children to ride) and proceeds to demonstrate to the class how incompetent she is jumping a green horse.

Thus Susan breaks her wrist when Jocko goes ape-shit and throws himself head-on at the ring fence. There is much pain, and humiliation when Tara takes charge, and Susan practically wants to die on the spot. And there's much humiliation to follow when Tara manages to get Jocko around the jump course a week later. Susan just about has apoplexy, and bolts for the woods, whereupon she stumbles across a water jump on the rich neighbor's property just in time to see the rich snotty teenage neighbor ride a big gray horse up to the jump. Except the gray horse refuses, and naturally the rider does what she's supposed to do -- give the horse a smack with the crop. He refuses again! So Maxine (the teenage rich snob) smacks him again. Rinse, recycle, repeat. She's just gonna keep flogging him all day (clearly we're treated to Joanna Campbell's personal crusade against horse abuse and whips) because she is Evil and Bad, and therefore pre-disposed to horse abuse because we're supposed to hate her. So finally wearing out her crop leather, Maxine gets the horse over the water jump, and off they go.

A few days later, Susan manages to make it to school, Tara puts on a Fake Sweet Bitch act and humiliates Susan some more in front of her classmates. Susan does this withdrawing act, and just basically shuts down until she gets home where she finds her dad bought the big gray horse that she'd seen Maxine riding. He's four years old, and is a Thoroughbred named Evening Star. And at some point, he jumps out of the pasture, and goes tearing off into the woods where Susan chases after him, and they come across a girl named Whitney Duncan. She catches Star, they take him back to her place and call Susan's parents. And the two girls talk and make friends, and it's all cool and that jazz. So Susan's dad suggests that Susan groom the horse because Star practically wants to crawl in her pocket.

So Susan takes Whitney to school, and Whitney blows off Tara, and hangs with Susan, and gets the whole story of the accident from both Tara and Susan. Susan grooms Evening Star, and fusses over him while Tara goes on and on about how she's going to buy a horse. And then one night, Susan's father tells her that Tara wants to buy Star, so Susan vows not over her dead body, and goes on the horse. It's instant love match, oh yay! And Susan finds out how to help condition Star properly. And it works, and she rides him, and oh yay some more. Tara keep on bragging and bragging about how much Evening Star gives her a hard on even though she hasn't ridden him yet (and that just makes me giggle madly) and when Tara sees Susan on Evening Star, she flips out like ninja and Susan finally manages to find the cajones to stand up to her. Hurrah for Susan!

And with Evil Tara's plans for riding Evening Star like an 1888 Whitechapel whore foiled (because clearly Tara owning Evening Star would be the kiss of death) Susan and Whitney can now begin to focus on their eventing careers. Tara of course, sulks around for a bit, and then gets a hard on for a new horse named Dickens. Whitney cleans out her closet and loads Susan down with clothes, and cuts Susan's hair, and Susan goes to school where everyone practically shits their pants because "Whoa, Susan is like Not a Freak!" and then Whitney bullies Susan into going to the Christmas dance where they actually get Susan to dance with members of the opposite sex. Brilliant!

So along comes Christmas Day, and it snows. So Susan, her parents, and older brother of course hitch a horse up to a sleigh and drive off to the Duncans' home, and then it's back home for Christmas treats for the horses (something that Joanna apparently really likes being as it's appeared in several books by now) and Susan gets a entire new wardrobe of show clothes from her parents. And then after Christmas, Susan teaches a beginner class again, and there's general trashing of how Tara is riding her horse like an 1888 Whitechapel whore, and they talk about her behind her back. Susan manages to jump fences again thanks to Star, and then Whitney invites Susan to some show at Madison Square Gardens.

So off to New York, New York the two girls go, and they meet this cute boy named Ronny who totally loves eventing. So he and Susan chat it up. Some time passes, Susan and Star turn into a team, and then comes the moment when Susan falls off Star doing gymnastics, and she freaks, but one of the assistant trainers on the farm makes her get back in the saddle. Crisis averted. Then the weather turns, and spring arrives and so Susan and Whitney go out on the cross-country course, and return to see Tara throwing a temper tantrum about wanting to go out there too. Whatever!

Eventually, Susan, Whitney and even Pretty Bitch Tara go to a horse show. Tara apprently has a huge case of the "butterflies in the stomach" because she tacks her horse up way early and starts warming him up. Whitney and Susan go off to change and Susan is horrified that she has to strip off her clothes in front of other women (honey, you 'aint got anything those ladies haven't already seen) and as they're warming up, Maxine walks over to confront Susan. Evening Star practically shits his pants thinks he's going to be flogged again. They wait for their rounds in jumping, and Tara has to ride first. She goes clean until the last fence when Dickens pulls the rail, thereby giving our Dynamic Duo the opportunity to discuss her FenceFail. But that's fine because Whitney fucks it up even more and gets two faults. Which leaves it all up to Susan to go clean and win the damn class. Bully! But not before having a near meltdown, and begging her horse to help her, which of course, he does.

Susan and Whitney aim for the Winter Horse trials, and Tara gets a case of sour grapes and bad mouths Susan all over school. And then it's time for the Winter horse Trials, and so far, Susan is ahead after a clean run in cross-country and show jumping. She runs into Ronny again, and goes gaga over him. Susan gets second in her event, and Whitney wins hers. And then three weeks later, Susan and Star win, and the whole family starts thinking they ought to enter Star in Groton Horse Trials, which I always thought was a bit much to expect of a five-year-old horse.

Moving along, our Dynamic Duo lurk around the tack store where they see Tara trying on $300 dress boots, and they talk about her behind her back. But this is clearly OK because they are the Good Girls and Tara's just the Bitch. And thus, as Susan is schooling her horse over the cross-country course, he spooks, throws her and she probably fucks her wrist up again. Ooops. Well, turns out Ms. Maxine was on the other side of the fence screaming hysterically and going postal at her horse, so Star shat his pants again. Anyway, Susan sprains her wrist and can't ride for a month. But clearly something must be done because Groton is coming up.

However! In what shall become a very familiar plot to readers of the Annoying Riding Princess Death Match, Susan proposes that Whitney ride Evening Star at Groton. Or at least ride Star and keep him in training for the month that Susan can't ride. Whitney finally caves in to her bestest friend, and sets to work. Of course, before all this happens, Tara has to gloat to Susan at school about missing any upcoming shows. But naturally, she just happens to be at the stable to see Whitney riding Star, so she has another freak out attack.

School ends, and Susan and Whitney go with their class to some park along the Housatonic River where they go canoing, and Whitney stands up in the canoe, and they tip over. Hooray, wet girls! And Tara just happens to be right there to point and laugh. But at last, they get to Groton, and they settle the horses in. Maxine apparently must have some superior power of telepathy because she waits until Susan, Whitney and their parents are all busy the next morning before going to Tara and asking her if she could take a look at Star. This of course is part of her devious plan to psych out the competition (more than likely completely destroy) because it's something worthy of Brad Townsend's awesomeness. In doing so, Maxine manages to make Star shit his hooves, and whimper like a fucking pussy just by standing in the stall (unless of course she managed to flog him with a whip while Tara's back was turned.)

This of course makes Star a nervous wreck, and he bites Whitney and she cries like a baby, and begs Susan to ride Star instead. Which Susan does, even though she hasn't ridden a horse in a month. And since Joanna already established the fact that Susan and Whitney wear the same size back when Whitney gave Susan all those clothes, they have an easy way of getting riding gear for Susan. And while waiting for her dressage test, Susan swears to Star that she'll pull a Cindy and sleep in his stall to protect him. Which either happens or it doesn't because we time travel to the following day where Susan does well, and they tie with Maxine for first place. Ronny shows up again, and chats with Susan a bit before they go back to the motel, and Susan's wrist is hurting like hell. Whitney feels bad, of course, and gets ice.

The next morning, it's time for the show jumping round, and Susan and Star get a clean round, and then Maxine's horse pulls the very last rail, which means Susan wins Groton for her division, and then passes out cold in front of her parents. And we all live happily ever after.

Points of Interest:
  • Susan's father is named Mitch. Naturally this makes me giggle like a maniac because the only Mitch I can associate with the name is my golden boy.
  • Double You Tee Eff! Whitney's parents have a BMW and a Jeep Cherokee. Seriously, does Joanna Campbell have stock in Jeep or something?
So anyway, I think I'm finally ready to venture back into the adventures of that masked horseman known as Zorro now. I'll likely regret it though if the Mary Sue-ism gets worse. I heard that the author was supposed to be so good, but between the Sue senorita and the telepathic connection between Diego and Bernardo (I fucking kid you not) it's a bit much to expect. Ah well, c'est la vie!


Mara said...

Joanna Campbell probably bought a new Jeep Cherokee every year. I bet you anything she has a Jeep Cherokee sitting in her driveway right now.

Elizabeth said...

I can't believe you didn't spend near as much time talking about Susan's makeover (OMGZ!) as Joanna Campbell did.

Lei said...

Honestly, that part bored me. I think my eyes glazed over, and I just kept on reading.