The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is the coming-of-age story of Thea Atwell - and it is unlike any other such story I've ever read (and I've read quite a few!). Thea lives in Florida during the Great Depression, and she is sent away for an as yet unknown indiscretion to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. Thea loves horses, so it would be hard to see this as a punishment. But that's how she feels it. She is banished, abandoned, almost disowned by her parents and sent away from the person she loves the most, her twin brother. She has never left home before, never had to mix with girls her own age. For her, being sent away from those whom she loves is a punishment.
Thea is a very different, very original heroine. She is fifteen, almost sixteen, and has lived in a sheltered world. Through no fault of her own, just the matter of her circumstances, she doesn't understand how the real world works, is only beginning to learn about herself and other people. Thea's experiences at Yonahlossee, due to the series of events that led to her being there, shape her and change her. The girl who is reunited with her parents is a different one that left them. But the change did not happen overnight, and this is part of what makes Thea a very real character. Her development as a character, as a person, is touching and you can see her learning lessons from her time at Yonahlossee. Thea is a go-getter, she knows what she wants, and from where I stand I think this is remarkable, due to the time this novel is based in. She is not your average '30s girl.
I thought I knew where this book was going, that it was predictable, but DiSclafani had me on the edge of my seat (figuratively). My eyes darted across the page, I was so eager to know what happened next. The story was well crafted and I enjoyed the descriptions of the South, of the mountains. Being a horse person, I was also satisfied that the author knew what she was talking about. Finally, a book about horses that wasn't aimed at little kids! But even when you love horses like Thea does, there is always more in your life - especially once you get older. I thought this was balanced well.
This book, while about a sixteen year old girl, is not as tame as most YA so I'd caution against giving this book to younger girls. There are plenty of other horse books they can read. However, for the older reader, even someone who's not 'horsey', I think this book is fantastic.
'I was fearless. It was a trait that served me well in the ring, and badly in life.'