Sep 18, 2008

Wild Horse Summer: When feminism and prepubescent hormones collide.

Wild Horse Summer
by Hope Ryden
Illustrated by Paul Casale
Published: 1997

By request, I bring you Wild Horse Summer:

Thirteen-year-old Alison is nervous about spending the entire summer in Wyoming, on a ranch with her blind cousin Kelly. For one thing, she is afraid of heights and the ranch is situated in the high mountains. She is also afraid of horses and she knows her cousin wants a riding companion.

Gradually, Alison is coaxed into the saddle and even agrees to ride up the mountain with Kelly. The day ends in disaster, however, when her horse, Smoky, is spooked by wild horses and runs away with her. After her dramatic rescue, Alison refuses to get on a horse again.

But horses play such a big role in ranch life, they can't be avoided. When a wild foal is placed in Alison's care, she learns to love it. And when Kelly's seeing-eye mare, Cookie, is abducted by a wild stallion, Alison realizes what she must do. In spite of her fears, she embarks on an heroic rescue to bring Cookie home.
So, honestly, do we need to read the book after this summary? Well, of course we do. Why? BECAUSE IT HAS PICTURES. And maybe because we should all experience a twelve-year-old girl's dilemma over whether or not she should become a feminist while all facts seem to point to the contrary. Anyway, I bring you Alison:

Here Alison decided to break in her new cowboy boots just before getting on her train from Chicago to Wyoming, a 23-hour trip. Alison is doing this because she's afraid of planes, which is really just a fear of heights in general. I have no patience for people like this, for definite reasons I will keep to myself. So, granted, Alison isn't starting off on the right foot with me. However, she likes cats and figures that since she likes animals in general she should also like horses and dogs and whatever else exists in Wyoming. She is apprehensive about this trip, because she's never met her cousin and she's afraid she's going to be spending her summer as a blind girl's companion, which must be boring. I don't see how this should be a problem for Alison, given all she seems to really enjoy is cats and sleeping. Boredom is Alison's life, pretty much.

When she finally gets to Wyoming, her extended family is waiting for her. Meet Kelly:

Kelly is blind. Alison has no idea how to approach this, because everyone has to be all politically correct in large metropolitan centers like Chicago, which basically means everyone just shuts up and doesn't say anything out of fear of being misunderstood. Alison appears to have had this ingrained into her at an early age, so she doesn't really know how to broach the blind topic. Kelly helps her out by not caring and trying to be completely approachable. Yay for Kelly. The only problem I'm having with this section (actually, from this section all the way to the end of the book) is that everyone speaks with perfect grammar and say things like "Do you find it beautiful here?" and "Was the coyote handsome?" WHO SAYS THIS? Seriously. It's like being stuck in 19th Century England. It's just not normal.

Okay, so they all arrive at the ranch and Alison meets Bill, her 15-year-old cousin. Sparks fly on Alison's end, causing me much concern, because Bill is just about the most beautiful boy ever. Thankfully Alison is twelve and awkward, so there's no way this is going to become some kissing cousins story. Although, just for the record, had it become that I would have totally reacted with glee. Nevertheless, Alison gets her thrills from hearing that Bill thinks she's hot (and probably not in a cousin way, either), but that's as far as it gets. Thankfully. I guess. Anyway, Alison is given the job of feeding orphaned calves at the ranch, and finally her uncle gets her up on a horse for the first time, overcoming Alison's height issues, which she's too self-conscious to tell anyone about. I don't really get why, and I guess Alison doesn't get it either, because she just berates herself and then shuts up about it. She's kind of a sniveling character.

Kelly and Alison go out on a ride, although their horses are spooked by the wild horses that they happen to run across in a cave. Alison's horse flips out and bolts, carrying Alison into a meadow and dumping her before running off. Kelly and Alison are separated, so Kelly heads back to the ranch and Alison hangs out in the meadow and eats her peanut butter sandwich. Then she falls asleep and a horse talks to her. She wakes up and has a run in with a black stallion and his herd. Then the helicopter comes to save her, but she's got that stupid phobia and refuses to get in the damned helicopter. So her uncle radios Bill and has him come down to the meadow on horseback with his friend, Matt. When they get there, she refuses to ride a horse by herself because she's "not good" at riding. What's a girl to do? Climb up on Matt's horse and cling to him like the damsel in distress that she so obviously is, that's what.


And she's freaking thrilled about it. Right about here, I decided Alison was going to get married at 17 and start popping out kids six months later. She's that type. Anyway, Matt carts her home, giving Alison plenty of time to decide that Matt is even better looking than Bill (and not related to her...huzzah!) so she can start fantasizing about him now. After this, Alison still refuses to get on a horse because she's afraid she'll be tossed again and will lose another one of her uncle's horses. Although they find the errant horse eventually anyway. Alison still refuses. So she has to ride with Kelly on Cookie to the annual wild horse round up, where they are suitably disgusted by the goings on and return home.

Only they discover that a wild mare has been sold already and she has a foal out there somewhere, so they have to go get the foal. Finders keepers and all that. Again, Alison refuses to go (despite Matt going, which you'd think she'd want to go given I was sure she was eager to glue herself to his hip at this point), giving her time to drive into town with her uncle and talk about how mustangs are related to Spanish horses and such. They return to the foal, a little chestnut colt that Alison wants to name Angelpuss because he's cute and small and adorable. Kelly puts a stop to this (thank God) and points out that the foal isn't going to be a baby forever, and will need a more suitable adult name, like Coronado. So Alison relents and doesn't name the foal the stupidest name she can pluck out of her empty brain. This, by the way, was the second piece of proof I needed to know Alison was going to get married at 17 and give birth six months later. In fact, she'll probably name her first child Peanut or Cutie or Misty or Flower or something ridiculous. And Kelly won't be there to stop her when she does this.

They put the foal in a paddock with Cookie, who goes into heat soon after, attracting a wild stallion down to the paddock. The stallion steals Cookie and Kelly freaks out. So Alison gathers her lacking courage and decides to do something about this...in the form of finding Matt and making him do it for her. The third reason I needed to know she's getting married at 17. Matt and Alison ride out to the stallion's herd and they do something and he ropes Cookie and they take Cookie back home. Yay!

And then Alison turns 13 and Matt kisses her on the cheek and her uncle gives her Coronado and Alison tells her parents that they can cancel her train ticket and book her on a plane because all that riding around in the mountains has cured her of her fear.

  • At one point, Alison tries to beg off of learning to ride by telling Bill that she doesn't feel well. In that she's implying that she's on her period. Even though she doesn't have her period yet. Yeah. Yeah.
  • So where's all this feminist junk, right? There are two instances: Alison wanting to know if mares have any say in the herds they wind up in and why mares are kept mainly for breeding instead of for roping or whatever. Call me crazy, but I always thought mares did everything geldings are typically used for. Hope seems to be implying (by stating, actually) that because stallions are involved in these activities they can't be trusted around female workhorses (which may be true occasionally, but it's not something I've seen, so I wouldn't know). Horse people? Help!
Random fact: Hope Ryden is mainly a naturalist, so I guess that takes into account the perfect and therefore abnormal dialogue. And that's Wild Horse Summer. A Summer of Horses is next. I also just received Without Wonder, so I'll take a shot at that soon. Ta.

3 comments:

Monique said...

as a side note, Paul Casale is the man who we can thank for Cindy's infamous smirk and for giving wonder a blaze. :)

Molly said...

I can empathize with a fear of flying and heights in general and would be scared shitless to go riding in the mountains.

But it begs the question - why didn't she just stay home, then?

Heather said...

Ow. I think this book would seriously hurt my brain. Think of how crazy that poor foal will be by the time he's two. Of course he'll still be a stallion, so she can give crappy names to all his babies. Bleh