Written By: Anton DiSclafani
Published By: Riverhead
Length: 400 pages
In 1930’s central Florida fifteen year old Thea Atwell lives secluded in a large home with her parents and twin brother Sam. The only outside people she really has contact with are her Aunt, Uncle and cousin Georgie. Thea’s first passion is her horse, Sasi, who is actually a bit small for her, but it’s what she has. Because of the large land they live on, Thea often spends hours away from her house riding and exploring on her horse. Following a shameful and dramatic event Thea is sent away. She’s not given much information about the destination, but she and her father travel by train to North Carolina. When she arrives at the prestigious Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls she realizes that her comfortable life is stark by comparison to the comforts and lifestyles many of the other campers are accustomed to. In the midst of a nationwide depression these girls are from wealthy favored families, being bred to marry into other wealthy influential families. Thea is unprepared for the loneliness she feels away from her brother Sam, who has always been a part of her. She must learn how to interact with other young women, and navigate the caste system of her new surroundings.
I was drawn to this book when I first heard of it early this year. I’m not sure if it was the imagery created from the title or the cover of the book, but I knew I would be reading this book. I love books by new authors, first efforts and new voices in literature, and to say the least this one did not disappoint. Ms Disclafani has written a story about a young girl and a tragic secret and shame in her life. She is sent away, shunned for her family. The author tells the reader early on that Thea is sent away, but the hints and actions that are alluded to throughout the book are so well done. The reader begins to build questions and doubts and assumptions about the nature of the event…but the details, they are hidden until almost the very end.
Thea Atwell is a young woman, and she is so very sheltered and yet there is within her a burning desire, and with that a shame because she doesn’t know how to handle it. She has absolutely no social training. Her arrival at the camp is very exciting, because it’s in the middle of the summer and all the other girls have been there the entire term. Thea befriends a few girls, and is wary of many more.
The symbolism in this book is beautiful, there are horses and other signs of affluence in many places at camp. The headmaster and his family are very involved but at the same time very removed from the campers. Thea seeks to be closer to his daughters and offers to teach them to ride, giving her more time with the horses and more time with the family. She seems to be seeking that family she’s been sent away from.
The themes that are ultimately the cause of Thea’s downfall are so well done in this book. Ms. DiSclafani has honestly portrayed the role of women at this time, and sadly in some ways still today. Women are often punished for others actions, and held to a higher moral standard. I know this review is vague, but you really must read the book to learn it yourself.