Here we have yet another of these hideous faux-realistic computer generated covers, thankfully the last of its kind. There are a lot of things to nitpick here, both in terms of aesthetics and the laws of physics, but what has always bothered me most about this cover is that Star really, really is not bay. Otherwise, meh.
Yeah....not really. Most of this little synopsis is basically inaccurate, except for that last paragraph there. What is does do nicely is sum up pretty much everything that is offensive about this book. I'll state flat out that it really is probably the best book Leonhardt wrote for the series, and that Christina's transition to racing is still kind of partly believable here. It's when Mary takes over in the next book that things fly off the handle for me, and I think part of that is that Mary just isn't as good of a writer. She had a spike of improvement toward the end of the series, but that's pretty much it.Will Christina ever see Star again?
Christina Reese is worried. She's been taking care of Wonder's Star ever since his dam, Wonder, died. Now Star has been sent to Townsend Acres, and Christina misses him terribly. She dreamed of eventing Star in the Olympics on day, but Brad Townsend has already started training him to race.
The only way for Christina to be near her colt is to work with Brad. But Star has changed since he left Whitebrook. The once sweet and gentle colt has become wild and difficult to manage. Can Christina save her beloved Star from being ruined?
This book begins six months after Without Wonder when, if we all can manage to collectively remember, Star was sent to Townsend Acres as a three month old weanling type horse, or something like that. The opening scene to this book always struck me as odd, as Christina and Melanie are monitoring Miss America in her stall from the farmhouse vis a vi the new "foal watch" system, which I gather consists of a closed circuit tv system in the broodmare's stalls. I still can't quite process that Whitebrook managed to overcome its technophobia and install the this gadget, though it never again made another appearance. This will not be the first time in this book that I state how much I hate it that the authors persist in presenting Whitebrook as a teeny tiny old-timey farm. It makes me fucking sick. Get off your fucking moral high horse so I can punch you in the face.
Anyway, Miss America actually is going to foal, so Christina notifies her mother, who is hovering in the background with a mug of some hot liquid. Ashleigh is reluctant to help with the foaling, however, as she is still incredibly traumatized from Wonder's birth. I guess points for characterization consistency, but I am not too impressed and neither is Christina, who rolls her eyes or something equally petulant.
Christina and Melanie go out to the barn to help with the foaling, but not before Christina spends some time musing about how often she visits Star at Townsend Acres, which is a poor substitute for having the colt at the farm. She also muses about how these frequent visits take time away from training Sterling. She is finally supposed to move up to preliminary level this year, but Sterling is nowhere near as fit as she should be, which is not good because they have an event coming up soon. Ta-dah.
So Melanie and Christina tromp down to the mare's barn to watch this foal being born, whom Melanie promptly dubs Miss Perfect (it appears someone had been reading On the Track). As they walk back up to the farmhouse through pouring icy rain, Melanie suggests that Christina ask her mom if they can bring Star home instead of broodingly moodily about it. Christina is reluctant, but Melanie is basically challenging her to grow a pair, so she decides too do it. When they get back to the farmhouse they find that Mike is home, so Christina decides to ask him instead, figuring he will be on her side. Except that Mike says no, informing Christina that her mother is still not ready. Well boo. I guess we know without a doubt who wears the pants in this family.
So Christina traipses off to visit Star, which gives her plenty of time to think about how Whitebrook's ridiculously sub-par facilities are clearly superior to Townsend Acres' perfectly believable modern and immaculate grounds (which are therefore inherently evil; cleanliness is next to satanliness). She runs into Brad, who takes this opportunity to rub in how awesome his farm is, of course, and to tell Christina they'll be putting Star in yearling training in a week. Christina freaks out because Whitebrook never starts their horses until the fall and therefore what Brad is doing is something akin to horse abuse. What I really wonder here is how Christina, who never has paid any attention to horseracing (to the point that she didn't know where Belmont was) knows anything about how to train a racehorse and feels she can tell Brad, who has been doing it his whole life, the best way to do it. I will state upfront that I really know absolutely nothing about training racehorses, so I can't tell you which one of them is right, BUT, the whole theme of this book is "Christina knows Star better than anyone else and therefore she is the only one on the face of the earth that can train him properly." This is something she tells everyone every day, and saving Star pretty much hinges on her ability to convince everyone else that this is the Absolute Truth. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Christina is really pissed, but she refuses to tell Parker what's wrong because she doesn't want him to fight with his dad. She does immediately go home to tell her mother about Brad's plan, but Ashleigh's response is to tell her daughter to STFU and to point out that Brad knows what he's doing. Poor Christina. The only solution is to cry. Then she goes off to her lesson with Sam, but she's incapable of actually thinking of anything but Star. When Samantha lectures her Christina decides this is the perfect opportunity to try and convince her instructor that Brad is an inhumane horse torturer. Except Sam also tells Christina to STFU and points out not only that Brad might actually know what he's doing, but that Christina already has a talented horse in Sterling and she will never make it to the Olympics if she sits around mooning over Star all day. Christina doesn't cry this time, but you can bet she wants to.
You know, here is a thought. Christina gave up Wonder's Legacy, one of Wonder's foals, for Sterling. Then she decides to give up Sterling for Wonder's Star, another of Wonder's foals. What the fuck? Seriously. But anyway.
Christina and Melanie go off to visit Star and find him isolated alone in the stall, covered in dried sweat and still tacked up with a lunge line tangled around his legs (or the lunge line thing might be later, but either way it doesn't really matter). This makes them both pretty confused and angry, and uh, me too. With the way Brad is always trumpeting about how expensive his horses are and how valuable they are, I doubt he is going to leave a yearling Thoroughbred racehorse in his stall with no water, tangled in a lunge line without even having cooled him off. Not to mention that I am pretty sure they don't lunge racehorses, though don't quote me on this because I know it is TB series dogma that, you know, this is how you train racehorses. Moving on, though, Christina is all furious but Ralph Dunkirk, Brad's fat and evil trainer, kicks them out. Not before Christina can scream at him that she will be back with her parents tonight to show them Star's condition. At this point I thought, "Didn't you read Wonder's Yearling? You should never warn the evil horse abusers ahead of time that you will be coming by to catch them in their evil horse abusing schemes. Ask your dad about that. He will give you a copy of Wonder's Victory so you can learn how to plot your success."
It's unfortunate Christina didn't heed my mental advice, because when she drags her parents back later Star is of course perfectly cooled out and groomed. Brad wanders down from a huge party he is throwing to show-off and taunt the Griffen/Reeses, and has Dunkirk bring Star out for them to see. Star is all prancey prance prance. Ever eager to prove Brad and Dunkirk are bent on waterboarding their horses into submission, Christina takes Star's high-strung behavior as evidence that he is being abused, and is disturbed to the point of epilepsy that Dunkirk is using a stud chain on him when he brings him out of his stall. Ashleigh and Mike, on the other hand, are impressed by how Star has filled but spend most of their time talking to Brad. Because he is awesome, Brad invites everyone to the party, knowing that Mike and Ashleigh, turned out in their requisite "we are poor and better than you" jeans, will be embarrassed and say no.
The Griffen/Reeses return to Whitebrook with none of Christina's problems solved to find Parker angrily waiting in the driveway. Unfortunately, Christina was so eager to catch Brad in the act of sticking hot pokers into Star's eyeballs that she forgot she had a riding lesson. She decides maybe it's time to let Parker in on her fears about Star, and he is kind of relieved that she doesn't hate him and promises to help her think of a solution while he keeps an eye on the colt. The next day they go on a trail ride, and Parker suggests that maybe Christina should become Star's groom. He tells her to think about it before immediately puking all over her shoes at the idea. Then he challenges her to a race, saying whoever loses has to buy the winner dinner and a movie. Christina, who apparently was born without a vagina or who just really isn't attracted to Parker, kind of freaks out about this and repeatedly insists that it will be just as friends. Parker, who obviously has a penis and is completely attracted to Christina, lets the subject drop and begins to act weird around her. Welcome to the b-plot, my friends.
Eventually Christina decides that it's a fantastic idea to be a groom at Townsend Acres, and I guess the fact that her parents own half of Star makes this a feasible option for her, as Brad agrees. Christina toddles over to Townsend Acres, and Brad is waiting to give her the grand tour in a shiny new pickup truck. I will back it up a little here. Brad? A pickup truck? What happened to the Ferrari? Or even the jeep? Okay, here's how I choose to look at it: Brad knows the only language Christina speaks is "poor people are superior-ese" so he is driving home his superiority to her by displaying his wealth in a flashy new pickup truck. This is a a brilliant move on his part. Anyway, Brad drives her all over the farm and Christina struggles to makes her four brain cells comprehend the fact that a well-off Thoroughbred farm in Kentucky has perfectly manicured grounds, lots of quality bloodstock, and well-trained employees who keep the barns meticulously clean and well organized. All this adds up to evil in her head, though she does allow herself to be slightly impressed and even acknowledge how um, sensible it all is. Also, she gets to see the pool. Boy, don't we all just love the pool. It is one of the few random plot points any of these authors will be able to collectively remember, so huzzah for them. It is also apparently the only horse swimming pool in all of Kentucky, if not the world.
At the end of the tour Christina is beginning to think that maybe Brad really does know what he's doing. She even goes so far to explain to him that Star is special and no one loved him but her blah blah blah. Brad goes on to say that Christina reminds him of Ashleigh then indulges in some self-flagellation and admits he was an idiot for not realizing Wonder's potential. Then he becomes all evil and sinister and tells Christina that he is not going to let that happen again with Star, and if she gets in his way, he will punch her in the face and turn her into horse manure. Well, not exactly, but you get my drift.
Released from Brad's overt evil supervision, Christina goes off to the training barn to work with Star. There she befriends Matt, Star's previous groom, who begins telling her about "the rules," a list of twenty directives that Townsend Acres employees must memorize and carry out to the letter or risk being thrown into the Townsend Acres tar pits. Christina decides the military atmosphere is silly, but that most of the rules make sense, except for the most important rule of all: don't treat the horses as pets. This absolutely does not fall into line with her planned training program for Star, i.e. treat him completely as a pet because no one knows him as well as she does in order to produce a Triple Crown winner.
Why anyone, including Brad Townsend, would allow 15 year old Christina to train a Thoroughbred yearling to race, especially when she hates racing and has no prior experience doing so, is mostly beyond me. But don't worry, this is all part of Brad's nefarious scheme. You see, he knows that Star will respond best to Christina, so he's basically allowing her to work with him to iron out all the kinks. Then, once Star is nicely starched, Brad will take over the training once again and viola, there will be a perfect happy racehorse.
Christina is pretty oblivious to this, but Parker is much smarter than her and tries to warn her about what's going on. Still afraid he wants to put it in her, Christina ignores him. Also by the way Parker is jealous of Matt, and I don't blame him, as Christina has more chemistry with him than she ever has with Parker, never mind the fact that Matt is probably 23. Alas, he rides a motorcycle, and knowing Christina's storied past with boys and motorcycles, we can pretty much bet that Matt is not going to come out on top in this situation.
Back to the Star thing. Training goes great other than the one time Star almost kills her, and off Christina goes to the Meadowlark event. She is afraid to leave Star for the weekend, and her worst fears are confirmed when Matt rides up on his aforementioned motorcycle to warn her that Brad is planning on backing Star that very day. So Christina drops out of the event and rides back over to Townsend Acres with Matt because she needs to save the day. Not that she really can, because Brad is Star's owner and her parents could care less about the whole thing at this point. So she negotiates her way into holding Star while Julio, our gnarl-fingered professional backer, attempts to climb on Star, even as Christina wails "no, no, he's not ready."
Ugh. Then Star rears up and falls on top of Julio because he is not ready, so Christina screams and cries and Parker shows up despite the fact that he too is supposed to be eventing and screams and cries, then Brad fires Christina and Parker moves out and off they both go to Meadowlark to find Christina's parents so that maybe THEY will save Star. First they stop on the side of the road and in one of the most awkward and forced scenes ever declare their love for each other and make out. Then it's back to saving Star.
Okay, so finally Ashleigh decides to listen to Christina about Brad's heinous horse training methods. Despite the fact that over the entire book every character has said outright that Ashleigh doesn't want Star at Whitebrook because he reminds her Wonder, she tells Christina that what she was REALLY thinking was that Christina wanted to turn Star into an event horse, and we just can't have that. Christina is all "What? Never!" even though she thought that all the time. But Ashleigh buys it so off they go to save Star. They march into the barn and Ashleigh stands up to Brad and he relents and even apologizes to Parker, but says Star has to win one of his first two races or he'll be back at Townsend Acres. Ashleigh, for whatever unknown reason, agrees to this, and we the readers are left hanging on the edge of our seats as a result of this incredibly unpredictable cliffhanger. But at least Ashleigh has had a completely unexpected change of heart in the last five seconds of the book, and will support her now reunited daughter and her pet horse. The end.
Points of Interest:
- Brad is supposed to be some sort of fashionista (fashionisto?) but when he first appears in this book he is wearing a navy blue blazer with khaki pants, which in my opinion is one of the most hideous combinations ever. Might I suggest an Armani suit, perhaps?
- When Christina acts horrified by Brad's training methods he says to her, "Young lady, how dare you tell me how to train racehorses?" Well, I suppose is is grammatically correct to end that sentence with a question mark, but I don't think it's required. Every time I read it I hear Brad's voice trailing up ridiculously at the end of the that sentence, as if he's a valley girl. Brad Townsend is not uncertain. Brad Townsend ends that sentence with a period.
- Brought to you by Alison Leonhardt, here is our vocabulary word of the day: recalcitrant: obstinately defiant of authority or restraint.
- Christina wins a race against Parker by completely cheating and he tells her she has the instincts of a jockey. This makes her mad, but I really don't think it's for the same reason that I am mad.
- Do some breeding farms have 40 stallions? Anyone?
- Okay. I am REALLY fucking tired of every author in this series having Ashleigh and Samantha wear baseball hats and jeans and then describing them as looking like "a kid." It's fucking old and annoying and also drives into the heads of millions of young girls EVERYWHERE that the only way to be attractive and cool when you are older is to look like a kid, giving them something else to worry about when they're not obsessing over being thin. Further, even if this unfortunate depiction of society's twisted value system didn't bother me, I am really quite upset at this now trope-like description and how it really betrays a complete lack of creativity on EVERYONE'S part.
- I find it very strange that pages of this book are spent moaning about how creepily clean and well-organized Townsend Acres is, yet Brad doesn't care when Ralph Dunkirk spits a huge wad of chewing tobacco on the ground in the aisle of the training barn right in front of him.
- Oh Brad. When Christina arrives to take Star back to Whitebrook, Brad tells her that if he takes him out of the stall he'll call the police and have Christina arrested for stealing. Really, she's lucky he didn't threaten to call in his mob connections.