Author: Anton DiSclafani
Published: Riverhead Hardcover; June 2013
Genre: Historical fiction
Synopsis: It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.
Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer.
My Take: For me, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is one of those novels that sticks with you long after it has ended. So much occurs within the pages, and so much isn't revealed until the end that it calls for you to keep thinking about it. I actually had to sit on this review for a bit until I could fully formulate my thoughts! Let's hope I do a decent job.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is both a mouthful of a title and Anton DiSclafani's debut novel. Thea Atwell is our narrator and when the novel opens she is a young girl turning into a young woman who tells the story of her childhood by flashing forward and back. It can be slightly confusing but you soon get the hang of it. Basically, something has happened, and she is the cause of it, and it has turned her life upside down.
Thea was raised in Florida, and as the Great Depression hits her family is constantly reminded just how charmed their life really is. They live on a remote mansion and basically just have each other for company: Thea's mother, father, and her twin brother Sam. Occasionally they have visits from her dad's brother, his wife, and Thea and Sam's cousin George who is just a few years older.
When the story opens, we are all aware that something tragic has happened but we won't fully understand what that something is until close to the end. What we do know is that Thea is being punished by being sent to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, far away from her family and everything she has ever known. This camp is high up in the North Carolina mountains and is full of girls. Thea has never really been around other children besides her brother and cousin, both male, so she is completely overwhelmed by all of this femaleness. But what the camp does have is horse riding and Thea is a masterful horse rider.
What follows is Thea learning how to live away from her family and become a part of the camp. Also, how her family deals with the tragedy that befell them. This is not a happy feel good story. It is full of tragedy and sadness but it is fascinating and can fill your thoughts with how one mistake can ruin everything. I will warn you that if you don't like graphic love scenes this may not be for you. However, if you are looking for an interesting look into the life of a young woman who is set to learn the power of her actions, I would highly recommend The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. I also think this would make a fascinating read for bookclubs.
Cover Lust: I do love this cover. At first glance I thought it really fit the time period. However, at a second glance I noticed that the young woman on the cover is wearing jeans decorated with bows up the leg. Did they wear stuff like that in the early '30s? I didn't think they did and that inconsistency kinda bugs me.