Book Review: YA novel 'Charley's Horse' is rich in detail

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"Charley's Horse," is a young adult novel by Judith Shaw of Great Barrington, formerly of Richmond, where she was a reporter for the Richmond Record. The novel was runner up, Best Young Adult Novel in the 2018 Maxy Award and won the bronze medal in the 2018 Readers' Favorite International Book Award.

It is the story of Charley Rittenberg, an 11-year-old living in Sheffield in 1959, who loves horses. Charley doesn't know what's going on with her parents, but it isn't good. Out of the blue, it seems to her, they announce to Charley and her brother, Jeremy, they are "planning to get a divorce." Charley gets angry with them, and herself, to the point her "brain boiled over," and she sweeps her hand across a shelf in her bedroom, where she keeps her cherished collection of tiny ceramic horses. Almost all of them are broken. These are the only horses she really knows until her life changes in ways she could never have imagined.

It is decided Charley will go to a sleep-away horse camp for the summer — Secret Lake Camp, where there are real horses and she will learn to ride. At first, she imagines this is a dream come true, but when she finally arrives at camp, Charley has a rude awakening. She discovers quickly she's actually afraid of real horses. She's a beginner and all of the other girls at camp already know how to ride. Getting along becomes difficult, especially when one of the other campers, a girl named Jane, has it in for her.

Charley learns there are many kinds of horses, too. They are "living, breathing creatures, and they all have minds of their own." Charley's horse doesn't seem to like her and is uncooperative. After her first disastrous riding lesson, Charley wanders into a meadow where a lovely black horse is all by itself in a paddock. He comes right up to her and they like each other immediately. Charley becomes a frequent visitor.

Charley learns the black horse, "Cricket," has riding issues, too, and belongs to Mrs. Ethel Calhoun, the founder of Secret Lake Camp. Mrs. Calhoun takes Charley under her wing, teaching her how to drive a small carriage. After a harrowing first lesson driving Cricket with Mrs. Calhoun, instead of being afraid, Charley loves it. She finds happiness, confidence and fulfillment in her love for this horse. It becomes clear that both horse and new carriage driver are naturals to the sport. Charley is an eager learner and the discovery of what her favorite horse likes best encourages her to keep learning. The more she learns, the more she loves it and insists to her father that, even if it may be a little risky, "knowledge is power." Charley finds her real horse and her adventures at camp become rewarding.

This YA novel is rich in detail and technical knowledge about horses and gear in a way every reader will enjoy. Shaw also has a wonderful website that features great stories on horses, dogs and travel. You can find out more from storiesbyjudith.com.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com.


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