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Review by Julia Newhouse.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a compelling book about a young woman finding her place in the politics of varying niche positions: at an all girl school, in a fractured family, and in a patriarchal society. From the opening page, we understand that a big event has caused a rift in the Atwell family, and that fifteen year old Thea is the one held responsible for it. While her twin brother Sam is cloistered and protected at home, she has seemingly been cast off from the wealthy family’s estate. Being told by her father that she is being sent away to ‘learn how to behave around other children’, we as readers see a different Thea. We read of a fierce and impulsive young woman who is grappling along a rocky road to womanhood, paved with her own determined and knotty explorations of sexuality.
The book’s protagonist, Thea Atwell has been riding horses all her life, and competes as a jumper. This propensity to jump first, and think later filters down into the rest of Thea’s life. Set in the Great Depression, all around her, people face new hardships and ruin, adding to the sense of a young woman being cast out into the realities of adult life. With her new friends, the culture of femininity at Yonahlossee, as well as the headmaster and his family to influence her, Thea must find her feet as a young woman, and determine life’s boundaries for herself.
Anton Disclafani is without doubt a wonder at crafting a well-told tale. Thea’s past is teased out ever so slowly, in the sort of way that makes you yearn for answers, while enjoying the idea of being made to wait. Thea’s past is also skilfully played out against her present at Yonahlossee, where we come to see whether she will be able to move on, or whether one adolescent mistake will ruin her for life, and will it be doomed to be repeated? This is a fascinating portrait of burgeoning youth, and a young girl who is realising the power she can hold over the opposite sex. You needn’t ride horses or be a teen to understand her journey. Thea writes ‘I came of age, as they say, at the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls,’ and it is a delight to see her do it.
(Note this book is not released until 6th June 2013)