What to Read: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

Riverhead Books
Riverhead Books

The coming-of-age tale:


(Riverhead Books)

Thea Atwell’s life seems to have done an about face when she is hustled furtively away from her family’s well-appointed Florida home to a remote boarding school for girls in North Carolina. The truth is that Thea’s life has been in silent turmoil for some time, and she is forced to reorganize her views and associations at the tender age of 15. Meanwhile, the nation itself is undergoing an involuntary metamorphosis as the Great Depression looms.

The one constant in Thea’s life seems to be horses. Riders will relate to author Anton DiSclafani’s descriptions of Thea’s schooling sessions aboard her pony, Sasi, at home in Florida. The family lives a secluded life, and Thea rides virtually every day, following a training program mostly of her own invention. She finds that, true to its name, Camp Yonahlossee places horses centrally in its curriculum, and she works on improving her equitation and jumping skills on her assigned school horse all year.

Meanwhile, DiSclafani slowly unravels the mystery of why Atwell is essentially estranged from her family, including her beloved twin brother, keeping the pages turning with a very creative subplot. All of this occurs against the backdrop of well-to-do families teetering on the edge of financial ruin, the evidence of which we see in the sacrifices Thea’s classmates must begin making. Elegant party dresses begin to be worn twice, whispers of crumbling fortunes grow increasingly louder, and one of the school’s top riders faces leaving the school permanently at the end of the year without her beloved (and valuable) jumper. The school will apparently retain him as collateral for missed tuition payments. It seems a horse-centric boarding school is a luxury in any era.

Competitive riders will be able to relate to Thea’s immediate acclimation to the Camp Yonahlossee riding program despite an unsettling exit from the bosom of her family. So she’s a fifteen-year-old hundreds of miles from home – what rider with any sort of competitive streak wouldn’t immediately jump into this sort of situation bent on winning the prestigious end-of-the-year show?

According to DiSclafani’s website, antondisclafani.com, she grew up in Northern Florida and attended Emory University. She draws skillfully on her own Southern background, and the settings feel authentic. The site also lets on that she has an extensive riding background. Her descriptions of riding clothes of the era are particularly pleasing, and she throws in plenty of Thea’s private reflections on her affinity for equines, making for a refreshing take on the mystery of why some of us simply love horses.

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