Jan 12, 2009

The #1 way to get a horse: cry and insult your loved ones.

Moon Shadow
by Chris Platt
Published: 2006

While reading this book, I pondered on what would happen if all of these horse story main characters somehow found themselves locked in, say, a giant, isolated warehouse somewhere. You know what would happen? It would be a blood bath. That's what would happen.

Thirteen-year-old Callie lives with her parents on the edge of the Nevada desert. More than anything, she wants a horse of her own, but knows that her family could never afford it. For a long time Callie has watched a herd of wild mustangs -- sometimes playing, sometimes battling, but always magnificent. The stallion she calls Cloud Dancer and his pregnant palomino mare Moonbeam are her favorites. Callie daydreams that the beautiful Moonbeam will someday -- somehow -- be hers.

But not everyone loves the wild horses. Area ranchers complain that the herds are overpopulated, and in one of the Bureau of Land Management's periodic roundups, Moonbeam is brought in. When the mare dies after giving birth prematurely, Callie devotes herself to caring for Moon Shadow, the orphaned filly. It's touch-and-go as to whether the little mustang will even survive. But if by some miracle Moon Shadow does make it, will Callie be able to adopt the beloved foal?
I am glad to see that Chris Platt escaped the Ashleigh series with her career still intact, considering that it looks like, for some authors, the Thoroughbred series took them down with it. In an unexpected move, Chris Platt bounced from horse racing and breeding to flinging her formulaic rage at the BLM. I feel like this is a stage for some authors. It's only a matter of time before a horse story author moves from racing or horse camp scenarios to focusing their adorable little indignant characters on ripping into the moral fibers of BLM employees who don't appear to give much of a crap, but do invariably lose to the willpower of a tween and her gaggle of influential friends who keep the story moving for her, because she is ultimately powerless.

Callie is one of those adorable, indignant tweens. She's thirteen, horse crazy, and forced to wear homemade clothing because her parents are overgrown hippies who grow their own organic food and appear to live in a junk yard. Callie is upset about this because she does not like tie-dye, and incense makes her a little nauseous. She bravely soldiers on, making due with the family's draft horse and longing for the day she can adopt Moonbeam, her favorite local mustang.

It's summer, and Callie is serving as an equine vet assistant who does plenty of rounds at the local BLM. While they're there, Callie meets two new cowboys, Sam and his son, Justin. If you're waiting for me to say that romantic sparks start to fly between Callie and Justin, I'm sorry to inform you that this doesn't exactly happen. Because another local boy, and rich kid, Luke, likes to pester her in typical displays of male youthfulness, Callie decides that she'd really like to treat Justin like a foreign creature. Because typical tween maleness is seen as unsatisfactory in this book, let it be known that Luke is the antagonist. It's just not really convincing because mainly it's just Luke acting like a boy and Callie completely overreacting to everything he does. Sort of like Christina overreacting to Brad. That sort of overreacting.

So...Moonbeam is driven into the BLM compound and, because the BLM is evil, she is in labor and gives birth prematurely and wins up being put down because the BLM is evil. Did I mention that the BLM is evil? Have I mentioned yet that the "boss man" at the BLM does not like orphan foals? No? Well, he doesn't. And he has pig eyes and is unintelligent. No kidding. So, moving on, Callie has a hissy fit in the middle of the BLM about Moonbeam and immediately names her filly Moon Shadow. Because Callie can't just move into the BLM complex, she is forced to go home. When she comes back, she finds Justin helping out with the filly and has an immediate jealous urge to whine to herself about how she wants the filly to interact with only her. She has to note to herself that people call Moon Shadow her filly, not anyone else's filly, or the government's filly, or whatever. It's HER filly, people. Despite it not being her filly at all. Sam and Justin try to get the filly to bond with a nurse mare, but that doesn't work, so she takes to formula. By this point, Callie is determined to adopt Moon Shadow for herself, because boss man whoever is giving the filly the evil eye.

At this point, Luke's old pony gets loose, so Callie leads it back to Luke's farm and meets Luke's dad, who is very Clay Townsend. He's all ridiculously eager to be nice and happy to help after Callie pours out her emotional vomit about Moon Shadow. He is going to a) give her a job, b) front her the adoption fee, c) transport the filly to her house, d) tell her fantastical stories of the history of mustangs for some reason, despite everyone all ready knowing about the history of mustangs. Callie makes some callous comment about how Luke would never sit and listen to this crap, and it's no wonder, really, because it would bore anyone out of their mind. Only a horse story main character would listen to this. Anyway, Callie practically floats back home to tell her parents her plan, but they are not immediately swayed by its awsomeness and Callie flips out completely, shrieking about how she hates tie-dye and living on a yard with junk in it. Then she realizes that she's a bitch and it's too much. She bursts into tears and, probably because her parents are horrified that she's going to get into their medicine cabinet or start burning herself with their incense sticks, they immediately fall into line and let her adopt the filly.

Callie finds herself at the BLM place soon after her diabolical fit, toting Luke's father's check and the signed paperwork...only to find that the BLM boss guy has somehow figured out her plans and decided to swiftly cut her off at the pass, letting this random city woman (who is unfit to own a horse because she wears spike heels) adopt Moon Shadow. The horror! Clearly the BLM exists solely to piss off tween girls. Callie is paralysed into staring in abject terror at this development, so Sam and Justin do all the legwork and get city lady interested in another mare and foal so city lady changes her mind and, oh bliss!, Callie gets to keep Moon Shadow.

After this, Callie starts to work at Luke's place, trains Moon Shadow to lead, somehow accidentally lets Luke unlock the filly's stall, loses the filly for about two pages, and then decides to enter a halter competition with Moon Shadow when Luke's dad comes to the rescue again and offers her a new halter and all of his daughter's old clothes. At the show, Luke gets instantly pissed off because by this point he's probably realized he's the antagonist and he's not going to win at anything in his life ever again. So he decides, you know, screw it, and goes for the only option available to him: he lets Moon Shadow loose on the grounds. Callie and Luke's sister, Jill, find the filly, clean her up within about five seconds, and then release them into the show ring.

By this point, you're just waiting for me to say that she comes in first in her halter class, right? Well, she doesn't. She comes in fifth. Luke, of course, doesn't place at all, so that's really the most important thing. Sure, the book tries to indicate something about how it's all about the horse and the girl going on to become a fantastic team or something, but you know it's all about the tween girl beating her antagonist and affording to be smug about it later.

It's not a horrible book, but it strictly follows the wild horse/western formula. It also throws in some main character angsting about how everyone thinks pedigreed horses are better than mustangs and how wrong everyone is for having this mindset. And I can't exactly figure out why Sam and Justin like Callie when she mainly spends her time treating Justin like crap, just because he happens to be a boy, which Luke also is. Also, notice how she doesn't exactly do much of anything that moves the plot forward except go into hysterics, which lands her a horse her family can't afford. The big saving grace here is that she comes in fifth, and is happy in fifth. She could have come in first, and made the cliché complete. The bottom line: solid, despite the converging of formulas.

It's amazing what allowances I'll give a book that doesn't reward its character with a justified blue ribbon in the end.


Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Wow, long reviews! You guys read a lot of horse books. I'm going to send this link to my daughter because she reads a lot of those books I see you've reviewed.

Here's a great one though. It's a young adult and it's literary fiction--The God of Animals. I loved it.

Good luck with your blog and your reading.


Molly said...

Man, this may be the one book where I have to say "I don't care if the main character doesn't win and is happy just to pin. I AIN'T READING IT."

Mostly because Mustangs are a bit of a thorn in my side. People romanticize them to a point where it's just painful. And because Moonbeam is my friend's pet name for me, and I don't want that ruined for me!