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A Good Horse by Jane Smiley
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A Good Horse

by Jane Smiley

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Wonderful story. I loved horse books as a child. I'm delighted to find Jane Smiley creating more and with such full characters. A very worth while read. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley continues to share her love and knowledge of horses in this moving sequel to "The Georges and the Jewels." Thirteen-year-old Abby Lovitt finds herself feeling protective toward Jack, a beautiful orphan colt who may be the offspring of a pedigreed stolen mare, and could be taken from her family ranch in 1960s California. Black George, another good horse, may also be sold to rich people on the show circuit, and when heartbreaking decisions must be made, Abby's love of these horses and her faith provide an anchor. Horse enthusiasts will appreciate the illustrations and long passages about riding, grooming, training, jumping and showing horses in this winning coming-of-age tale with memorable characters, both horse and human. ( )
  MStevenson | Mar 2, 2011 |
Richie's Picks: A GOOD HORSE by Jane Smiley, Knopf, October 2010, 256p., ISBN: 978-0-375-86229-8; Libr. ISBN: 978-0-375-96228-8

"I have finally found a way to live just like I never could before
And I know I don't have much to give, but I can open any door.
Everybody knows the secret, everybody knows the score
I have finally found a way to live in the color of the Lord."
-- Eric Clapton

"I went upstairs and did my homework, then took a bath and went to bed. As I was lying there, I could hear the front door slam through my open window, and I knew that Daddy was going to check out the horses one last time. I realized, of course, that I could pray. We prayed for all sorts of things. But there were rules about praying, and one of them was that you could not petition the Lord. You could not decide what you wanted and then pray for that. You always had to pray for the right thing to happen, and, as anyone could tell you, the right thing to happen wasn't always the thing you wished for. Personally, I always wondered if breaking this rule about petitioning the Lord meant that you were less likely to get whatever it was you wanted than you would have been if you hadn't petitioned the Lord. Rules were rules, as everyone knew, and breaking them was a risky business."

It is a pleasure to experience what Pulizer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley brings to her writing for middle schoolers. A GOOD HORSE certainly has a style that sets it apart.

I recently read and wrote about a cyber thriller for which I was unfamiliar with some of the technical terminology and processes. Yes, it's a long way topically from cyber coding on the run to weaving through a series of jumps on a course while sitting on a horse but, as with that cyber thriller, A GOOD HORSE is written in a manner that my lack of technical knowledge did not interfere with my full enjoyment of the story. And while there might be some young readers who become a bit restless with Smiley's descriptions of Abby Lovitt's preparing for and then navigating the various jumps on her horse, or the recollections of Abby's playing a adverbial charades game during a sleep over, I really enjoyed how these details significantly add to our understanding of Abby's world in the Sixties. I am similarly impressed by the author's ability to repeatedly provide some real insights into adolescence without becoming the least bit didactic:

"As for Alexis and Barbara, they were friendly, but they weren't my new best friends or anything. They still bustled down the hall in the morning rather than huddle with other kids around their lockers. They still sat at their own table for lunch and didn't invite others to sit there, though they were perfectly nice if anyone did. In fact, one of the amazing things about the Goldman twins was that they didn't change -- they were always themselves. Now that I'd been to their house, I saw that that was the way the whole Goldman family was. Maybe if you always did what you wanted to do, then you always were who you wanted to be."

A GOOD HORSE is a coming of age story set in northern California in the Sixties. It is told from the point of view of eighth-grader Abby, who lives with her strictly religious parents, and the horses they are raising. Unfortunately for the family, a beautiful young colt named Jack -- who was born on their farm and who is Abby's pride and joy -- might have ended up in their hands (through no fault of theirs) as the result of a crime.

Abby's parents receive a series of letters from an investigator who is looking into the claim that a mare that Abby's father purchased the previous year on an out-of-state trip to buy more horses might have been part of a group stolen from a ranch in Texas. The stolen mare that might or might not be the same one purchased by Abby's father was in foal, having being bred -- at considerable cost -- to a Belmont stakes winner. The question is whether that (now-deceased) mare her dad purchased is, in fact, that stolen mare, which would then give the victims of the theft an interest in the beloved colt, possibly in both a legal and a moral sense.

To witness the struggle that Abby's parents go through at one point in order to justify their permitting Abby to ride in a show on the Lord's day, is to understand that these are people who won't be taking any moral shortcuts or hiring a sharp lawyer for the sake of maintaining possession of the colt.

As we also come to see, an avenue through which one can quite readily view the differences between those of substantial wealth and those of more modest means is by way of the world of horsemanship. We observe one of Abby's peers being in the position to demand -- without a second thought or hesitation -- her parent's acquisition of Black George, the Lovitt's finest adult horse. This gelding is an animal into which Abby and her father have, on a daily basis for years, poured considerable time, love, and energy. This potential sale accentuates what we see about Abby's life -- how she does not have a lot of clothes that fit her right for school, no less properly-fitting attire for horse shows. The Lovitt family would profit handsomely from this potential transaction, but it is, nevertheless, an eye-opening situation.

As is also the case with a scene in which Abby, during her stay-over with the Goldman twins, experiences her first bagel, first poppy seeds, and first lox.

I, myself, plead guilty to sometimes forgetting that not everyone in America gets to grow up in a cosmopolitan community. While I am quite aware that not everyone can afford to stop for just-out-of-the-oven bagels (and that there certainly are not decent bagel places in all corners of the country) I did find that I'd assumed that even back in the Sixties everyone at least knew what they were. And so it made me (who grew up across town from Holling Hoodhood) recognize the need to remember how diverse our country really is (and was).

"'We don't get to keep the really good ones, no matter how much we like them.' He caught my eye.
"I said, 'I know that, Daddy.'
"He said, 'We all know that.'
"Well, we did know that, but it was a lesson I kept having to learn."

This book is actually the sequel to Smiley's THE GEORGES AND THE JEWELS which is set over the previous school year (when Abby is in seventh grade). I certainly enjoyed this very different piece of historical fiction more than enough to go back now and read the previous book next.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
BudNotBuddy@aol.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EcolIt/
http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php

FTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books. You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received. Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries. ( )
  richiespicks | Jul 18, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375862293, Hardcover)

When eighth grader Abby Lovitt looks out at those pure-gold rolling hills, she knows there’s no place she’d rather be than her family’s ranch—even with all the hard work of tending to nine horses. But some chores are no work at all, like grooming young Jack. At eight months, his rough foal coat has shed out, leaving a smooth, rich silk, like chocolate. As for Black George, such a good horse, it turns out he’s a natural jumper. When he and Abby clear four feet easy as pie, heads start to turn at the ring—buyers’ heads—and Abby knows Daddy won’t turn down a good offer.

Then a letter arrives from a private investigator, and suddenly Abby stands to lose not one horse but two. The letter states that Jack’s mare may have been sold to the Lovitts as stolen goods. A mystery unfolds, more surprising than Abby could ever expect. Will she lose her beloved Jack to his rightful owners?

Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley raises horses of her own, and her affection and expertise shine through in this inviting horse novel for young readers, set in 1960s California horse country and featuring characters from The Georges and the Jewels.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:57 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

On her family's California horse ranch in the 1960s, eighth-grader Abby Lovitt tries to rely on her Christian faith as she faces the possibility of giving up her beloved colt, Jack.

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