07 May 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

Flap Copy from ARC: "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." 

DiSclafani's debut novel tells a story that is in parts a scandalous coming-of-age drama, a family tragedy, and a historically accurate period piece.  Thea narrates her own story, with the crispness of thought and language that come from being many years removed from the emotions of that time.  She alternates the setting between 'camp' (really a year-long school) now and her home in the previous year, slowly revealing the tragedy which led to her being sent away to school in the first place.

Thea was an interesting but unapproachable character, which suited me just fine.  Even though I didn't quite connect with her (as other girls at school could not, as her mother and even her twin could not) I was rooting for her success in every endeavor, from romance to horseback riding competitions. The book's fluid language and attention to detail painted lifelike people and scenery that transported me to Thea's world, and I had a hard time tearing myself away from it.

This novel is a vivid, engaging portrayal of love, sex and money set against the backdrop of the Great Depression.  DiSclafani captured the rising despair of the upper class as their money disappeared, and the slow trickle-down of knowledge as it reached the ears and lives of exiled daughters, with a distant compassion that seemed perfectly fitting for the subject matter.    I highly recommend this novel, I give it five stars - the writing is exquisite, the story is interesting, and the characters are worthy of a reader's time. I enjoyed this book more than any other I've read in a long time.