Published by Riverhead on June 4th, 2013
Genres: adult, historical
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A lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls’-school rituals, set in the 1930s South.
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.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (only time I will type out the title) was a pretty interesting read for me. Though I didn’t like it very much at all, I still sort of enjoyed myself and thought the author did a lot of things right. So maybe I should talk about those first.
I liked the writing a lot. I did. And I think the author has a lot of talent in that area. The sentence structure, flow, and imagery was done very well. I enjoyed the atmosphere and felt she captured the setting in an exceptional way. I also really enjoyed the tone of the novel. The book is incredibly depressing, but not the type of depressing that will necessarily bring the reader down. On the contrary. It only made me want to keep reading. Also, I can feel that the author is passionate about the subject she is writing about. That much is clear to me.
Unfortunately this novel suffers in pacing, direction, and characters. Which is pretty much the whole enchilada when it comes to reading for me. There isn’t much of a story and it lacks focus and direction. It started off well and I liked it a lot in the beginning, but then the plot became sluggish. It wasn’t well-paced at all. It’s hard to explain, but it feels like almost nothing happens during the entire book even though things are happening. Not the type of book I usually like.
And then…there is the issue of the characters. They are awful. All of them. They are either flat and undeveloped, or in the case of the protagonist, completely insufferable and impossible to like. She is ignorant. Selfish. Foolish. And a complete snob. Without spoiling the book, it’s pretty much impossible to talk about why she is the way she is, but her decision making process is defunct. She is a straight-up idiot. And frankly, she deserves everything she gets. Towards the end, I think the author made an attempt to redeem her, but huge freaking fail. That girl did so many horrible and selfish things that there is NOTHING that could redeem her.
I read this on vacation, and I managed to finish it all, but the book is not memorable in the least. At this point, all I can remember is how ridiculous the MC is and how much I wanted her to get a dose of her own medicine and then some. And that’s all I need to remember, to be honest. This book could have been wonderful with some changes to the story arc. Instead, it’s maddening and frustrating. The only thing saving it from the dreaded 1 star rating is the writing and atmosphere. I’m being generous. Not recommended, unfortunately.