by Barbara Morgenroth
It's been a while since I've delved into the 1970s, but after reading The Perfect Distance I was inclined to hunt this book down.
Kim wanted to ride, ride really well; well enough to make the U.S. Equestrian Team. But the only thing she had going for her was her horse, Foxy. Her father didn't really approve of her love of horses and refused to spend the money that would give her good teachers and allow her to go to the best shows.
At seventeen, a senior in high school and about to begin her last official year as a junior rider, she was desperate. She needed a big break. And she got it in an unexpected way. An assistant judge at a small show, who liked her and liked her horse even thought the main judge didn't, suggested she call an Emory Reis. Over her parents protests, she did. And suddenly she had a teacher -- a free teacher, who asked only for real dedication to horses and riding. Eventually, because the inner circle of riders form a close group who help each other when the help can go both ways, she not only had lessons but a place to ride and a friend to ride with, to practice jumping with, and eventually to do the winter circuit in Florida with.
But along with really learning to ride, Kim learned almost too much about the politics and economics of riding. Dreams, she found, must sometimes die in order that possible things, and maybe better things, can happen.
Not the best summary, mainly because it reads like a brief book report. Also, that is the book. There's nothing to say now that the summary hasn't already pointed out. Kim is obsessed with trying to get into the U.S. Equestrian Team. She has a number of factors that sort of make this dream impossible to accomplish: she isn't rich, has only one horse, her horse is sort of green, and she sort of isn't that good. She also has parents that are not at all interested in horses, and think she should (gasp!) go to college. So she has her family to contend with on an almost regular basis. The story rambles through Kim's attempts to take the right advice and improve herself through her last junior year before aiming for USET, school and education be damned.
There are many things that I liked about this book, most of them having to do with how freakishly knowledgeable Barbara Morgenroth comes across as being. There's a directness in the dialogue and the characters that I really liked, and Kim isn't a typical horse story character. She's obstinate, but she's not annoying in her determination to realize her dream of riding for USET. In terms of her horse, Foxfire, he's good, actually better than she is, but he isn't a Super Special OMG Amazing Wonder Horse. The secondary characters are all appropriately developed and a little quirky. So that's all good.
What I liked even better (and I'm about to spoil this for you, if the summary didn't do that already) is that the book's whole purpose is to point out that sometimes your dreams are hilariously wrong and you've romanticized your end goal to a point that it will never live up to your expectations. So when you realize this, suck it up and act like an adult. Kim gets invited to try out for USET, but before she can even get to the trials it's made wildly apparent to her that USET isn't where she wants to be. Mainly because they point out to her that there are tons of riders available to them. What they need, unfortunately, is horses. Good horses. Horses like, say, Foxfire. So will Kim kindly shove off, but leave behind her horse, please? Kim doesn't really have to think about that very hard. USET is firmly ruined to her, and she decides to take her career and apply it at the barn of the (formerly mentioned from summary) assistant judge, Jeff (who I was sort of in love with by the end of the book) who wants a rider. So, yes, the whole book is a lesson in getting to your goal and figuring out what to do when you realize your goal is a deep, meaningless void. Fun!
What I didn't like was that, for as much as I liked the book, it felt like it was scratching the surface with the story. You like the characters, but you don't know the characters. Kim likes horses. She's a feminist. She sticks to her principles. That's it. The book isn't very big on description; in fact, it's basically an endless parade of horse scenes or mulling over horse career aspirations, leading us to yet more horse industry facts. It was a barage. Seriously, I wanted this book to back off a little in that department and give me a little plot, which was lacking. There is no closure with Kim's parents, Kim is remarkably unable to think of anything other than horse career goals, and if there was any one horse story character that I desperately wanted to have a hobby, it was this girl. Friends, even. Kim has no hobbies, she has no friends. She has only a dream and determination, which is all classic horse story character, so at the end of the day, she's not that enjoyable to be around. You sort of want to scream at her to go buy a pair of shoes that would never survive one walk through a barn. I mean, it's okay to own clothes that you can't ride in. Seriously. It is. Kim, of course, refuses to accept this basic fact of life.
Ultimately, I classify this as a good book. I liked it, despite some rather tiresome problems that are both expected and, well, smothering. This book nearly burned me out on horses, that's how crazy obsessed Kim is, which would be unfortunate given that I'm going to the barn first thing tomorrow. However, I enjoyed the realism and I enjoyed the ending, and it's really not a special horse and determined girl win everything and are loved by all book. So if you want to take a look at Last Junior Year, head over to your library. This one is out of print, and it looks like buying a copy online will run you over $30. I feel I need to clarify now: this may be a better horse book, but it's not worth $30. It's library worthy, but if you find it for five bucks in a used book shop, go for it.