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Book Review

‘The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls’ and horse lovers


BookCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Sally Wisdom                

Riverhead Books

June 4, 2013


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390 pp.

Anton Disclafani soared from unknown to bestselling author with this story of adolescence set in the Depression-era South. Fifteen-year-old Thea Atwell of Emaltha, Fla., is driven by her father to Blowing Rock, N.C., to be left at Camp Yonahlossee because of a horrible secret, the details of which are murky at first and emerge slowly as the story unfolds.

The Atwell family had lived a life that was idyllic but insular, supported by Mrs. Atwell’s citrus fortune. Thea and her twin brother, Sam, were homeschooled by their physician father and had little contact with the outside world. Thea spent her days riding her pony while Sam explored the natural world and cared for orphaned wild life.

In addition to a summer camp, the fictional Yonahlossee is a year-round boarding school, complete with a handsome and libidinous headmaster. Thea’s life there bears little resemblance to the only life she has ever known in Florida. As she navigates the unfamiliar territory of a community of teenage girls, the constant in her life is riding, where she excels and carves out her place in the Yonahlossee social structure. The author’s passion for horses and riding is evident, and her vivid descriptions of Thea’s equestrian exploits will appeal to adults who loved horse stories as young readers.

As Thea offers glimpses of the rest of her life in the book’s final pages, it seems she may have fared better than her parents and brother. Readers are left to wonder how much her family’s isolation contributed to the situation which turned tragic and how much the socializing experience of Yonahlossee enabled her to move on. CV

Sally Wisdom‘s great uncle founded the real Camp Yonahlossee in 1922, and her mother worked as a counselor there in the 1930s.

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