Aug 11, 2009

Behold...a book!

Behind the Bit
Canterwood Crest #3
by Jessica Burkhart

With friends like these...

It's midwinter break and Sasha Silver has been invited to attend an exclusive equestrian clinic. Problem is, Callie, Heather, Alison, and Julia have also been invited. And after the way things ended at Canterwood's Sweetheart Soiree, the line between friend and frenemy is thinner than ever.

You know how people went a little nuts over the boys vs. horses dynamic in Pine Hollow? Oh, crazy people. What would I do without your capslock rage?

I bring up this topic because so many horse books are so bad at finding a happy medium between the two. Ashleigh and Samantha from Thoroughbred treated the opposite sex as if they were hazy on if it even existed, and when boys were there they were not there, relegated to boredom for the rest of their fictitious lives. And from what I can gather, young girls everywhere approved heartily. No to sexual chemistry! Yes to horses! May this never, ever change! Until it does. Sorry, kids.

And then Jessica Burkhart and Canterwood Crest came along, totally confusing this established horse book trope. It is refreshing to see a change. I am definitely reading these books with an emotion I'm pretty sure is glee. Mainly because it's finally been proven: boys and horses can successfully be coinhabitants in a 12-year-old girl's brain. It can be done! Do not shy away from this, authors and tween girls! It's okay! Everyone put away the capslock and take a deep breath. A deep, soothing breath.

I am still enjoying this series, despite what I felt was a disconnect coming into Behind the Bit. I opened it up, read the first chapter, and put the book away for something like two weeks. I don't know if it was just the tween boy drama (ironically) that I didn't want to deal with at the moment, or what, exactly. It could possibly be that Sasha, despite being what I feel is a somewhat submissive personality, can be very in your face with the first person narrative. And when you're straddling the line between perkiness and angst, I just need to be in a certain mood to read this sort of thing. And that sort of mood occurs the day before this book is due at the library, apparently.

While it did take me a while to get going, the book does pick up as Sasha tries to piece her friendships (and possible romantic relationship with Jacob) back together over the two weeks of a clinic, during which the rest of the school is off on break. Eric, the other part of the love triangle, stays behind to help out with the clinic. Jacob, the other other part of the love triangle, flits off to be whatever the twelve-year-old equivalent of broody is. Here is where I say that I loathe love triangles, and yet I am drawn to them like a moth to flame. I find this very pathetic, but it can't be helped. Mainly, I hate them because the outcome is always obvious. I give Jessica points for creating a non-obvious love triangle. Although, I am still very wary of this development. Actually, I suppose this is more of a love quadrangle. Which is better, really.

While Callie isn't speaking to Sasha, Eric and Heather are. Ignoring Eric for a moment, because that was predictable, I loved what was going on with Heather. Because I like antagonistic relationships and/or friendships that are complicated, yet work in a dysfunctional way, this worked out for me. I enjoy that the main cast doesn't always have to get along, or never get along. And I think this aspect of Canterwood Crest is what I'm going to always love.

I also liked the end. Sure, there's a twist that you'll tilt your head and squint at, while trying to remember that these are seventh grade kids, but it works out and leaves you eager for the next installment. So, high marks on much of this book.

Now, let's get to some other points:

  • I am not a fan of describing clothing for no apparent reason. Behind the Bit takes this too far, in my opinion. Not to the insane levels of insane insanity like, say, Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter or anything (I'm sure you always wanted to know the color of the Nike swoosh on your favorite character's shoes, didn't you?), but I'm a firm believer in describing clothing for two reasons: to say something about the character, and/or to help set the scene. If your character is in the barn, where he/she seems to always be, I'll assume they're wearing some normal barn attire. I don't need to know exactly what in this or that shade of color, and that was a problem I found multiple times here. To the point that I started to worry that this series was going to start namedropping a few brand names every chapter.
  • I love Heather. She is my favorite character. There, I've said it! (I'm sure exactly no one is surprised.) That said, I've got issues with Jasmine. Who the hell is she and why is she such a bitch? I would take school rivalry, or something, but over this book she's just there at the clinic specifically to be an irritant. It's just...plain.
  • Maybe this is just 100% how I was taught, but taking up a lunge line by only six inches seems like an easy way to get your line caught around your hand. not sure about this whole scene. Overall, however, I was pleased with most of the horsey scenes in this book.
  • Sometimes, I think these books could really benefit from being cut about twenty pages. There's still a lot of extraneous details that don't need to be there, aside from random clothing description, such as getting a little too into the details of studying and how to make a warm bran mash or thin out a mane. It's not that they're bad, they're just slowing the pace of the book. Which I'm sure had a lot to do with my slow start in reading it.
  • Oh, and I'm pretty sure I am a part of Team Eric. Although I've been known to jump bandwagons...

That's it! I have no idea what is next, as Riders completely failed to captivate me. I will get back to staring at it in a little bit, and I'm sure season four of Wildfire will serve as a good distraction.


Heather said...

I gotta say, I adore Heather (and not because she shares my name). She's probably one of the most interesting characters in any horse related series I've read in a LONG time. Cudos to Jessica for making this character awesome, cause I hate sharing my name with crappy characters.

Molly said...

I gotta say I get really annoyed with antagonists who are assholes for absolutely no reason. I had the same issue with Veronica when The Saddle Club got into the higher numbers.

I wish my library would get these books in. I'm curious to read them.

Heather said...

I just saw this series has been extended from eight to twelve books. Yay!

Elizabeth said...

I think my real problem with horses and boys in Thoroughbred is that it's so age-inappropriate for the characters. Ashleigh and Sammy consistently act like they are about ten with regard to boys. Similarly, in The Baby-Sitters Club, everyone except Jessi acts like they are about thirty-five. I would say that the girls in The Saddle Club more or less act their age (they go on dates, sometimes they act like idiots about it, one of them has a boyfriend who does terribly exciting things like KISS HER!, and sometimes boyfriends move away and move back as sex-crazed jerks) so I think the real problem with Pine Hollow is not that it's unrealistic for teenagers who are sixteen and seventeen to spend a lot of time thinking about social situations and dating and sex, but that it's so incongruous with the aerlier books. And the George plot did not help.

Elizabeth said...

And on further reflection: Maybe it all would have been okay in TB if the characters had not aged. If Ashleigh had been twelve forever (or the Ashleigh series had gone on forever), it probably would have worked. But that would have been a little hard with Wonder growing up, having foals, and dying.

Mara said...

I agree that Thoroughbred might have been stronger had the characters never aged. Or, at least, if it had been moved so slowly that we only got Wonder's racing career and Ashleigh from 12 to 15 before it ended. Because you're right that the characters act about ten in regard to boys. But they also act middle-aged by the time they're 18 in regard to everything else. That, to me, was always so astonishing.

About Pine Hollow, I think one of the big problems is that it never really commits to either audience. It's like it's trying to sell middle grade to a YA crowd, and getting utterly confused. Even if it wasn't using the Saddle Club characters, it's still sending mixed messages all over the place with the immature writing mixed with the supposedly more advanced topics. It drives me crazy, honestly.