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Bea and the New Deal Horse

by L. M. Elliott

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317783,402 (4.81)1
Abandoned by her father after Black Tuesday, thirteen-year-old Bea convinces Mrs. Scott to take in her and her sister in exchange for farm work and Bea bonds with a seemingly untrainable horse.

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I love getting lost in a good horse book, as well as a good historical fiction novel, so when the two combine well in the same story it's a treat! This middle grade "tween" novel is a very well-written story about found family and resilience in the face of hardship, and the joys of the bond between horse and rider. Excellent historical setting: 1932, Great Depression, Virginia farm country, heavy drought making things worse for farmers and townsfolk alike. The author gives just enough detail to set the stage and keep the story moving, leaving the author's note at the end for a brief description of the causes of the Crash and what the New Deal was, etc. for young readers who might not know. Bea, 13, and her sister Vivian, 8, are abandoned by their father after a period of riding the rails and trying to find work. He's left them hidden on a horse farm with instructions to tell the owner, crotchety Mrs. Scott, to take them in because the girls' mom was college friends with Scott's daughter. But Bea-- stubborn, independent, hesitant to trust adults, and scared she'll be separated from her sister-- keeps this relationship secret from Mrs. Scott, even when they're discovered after Bea saves the life of the cantankerous unnamed chestnut horse that no one on the farm can get close to, let alone ride. This plotline is somewhat predictable from many many other "girl and horse" books, but it's handled very deftly here and is woven in with many others in the story. Bea convinces Mrs. Scott to let them stay in exchange for helping on the farm, and gradually Bea wins her over and gets some serious riding lessons as together she and Mrs. Scott hatch a plan to pay off the farm's debts by competing in horse shows and selling horses. But will they have to sell her favorite, the chestnut with whom she's bonded? There are side plots involving wealthy horse owners, farm foreclosure auctions, Malachi the blind Black World War I veteran, charlatan rainmakers, the Bonus March on Washington, and FDR's first campaign for president that weave seamlessly in and out of the horse scenes. Fantastic writing and great character development of Bea and of Mrs. Scott. I appreciated learning in the author's note how the author based Scott's character on an amalgamation of several real horsewomen of the time, as well as her own daughter's horse trainer. ( )
  GoldieBug | Oct 7, 2023 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A well written horse story set during the Great Depression. It’s a bit too horsey for me with detailed descriptions of horse training and horse racing, but your opinion may be different if you’re into horses. And there’s some unnecessary cursing sprinkled here and there throughout the book. Otherwise, it’s a good story, recommended for those who love Black Beauty and all of the books about horses that came after.
  sherryearly | Oct 4, 2023 |
Wonderfully strong female characters with gumption! So many themes are woven into this story: the Depression, horses, grief & loss, family, found family, African American civil rights. The author has a deep knowledge of horses, riding, and jumping as well as a fine ear for the voice of a teenage girl in Bea. ( )
  bookwren | Jul 4, 2023 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Beatrice and her little sister Vivian wake up in a hayloft to find that their father - formerly a banker - has left them with a note to ask the woman whose Virginia estate they're on to take them in, as she's the mother of their mother's college roommate. Bea observes Mrs. Scott from afar, sees no evidence of her daughter Marjorie, and decides to keep the note a secret, but offer her and her sister's services to help pick peaches and weed the vegetable patch - and help with the horses. Mrs. Scott is stern but kind, and allows the girls to stay, even when Viv makes a mistake that hurts stablehand Ralph. Now it's up to Bea to make up for her sister's mistake - Mrs. Scott will train her to ride in an upcoming horse show for the prize money. Bea forms an unlikely bond with a fiery chestnut horse that Mrs. Scott seems to hate, and the two become a remarkable team - but will their victory result in their separation?

Set convincingly in Depression-era Virginia during a summer of drought, with a stubborn, savvy, scrappy heroine, and developed secondary characters (Malachi is nearly blind, not from his service in the Great War but because he was attacked by whites during a veterans' parade; Mrs. Scott's two sons were killed in the war, and her daughter didn't share her love of horses; Ralph knows the family inside and out and gives Bea good advice), Bea and the New Deal Horse is perfect for horse people and historical fiction readers.

See also: Three Strike Summer by Skyler Schrempp, A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

You have to mean what you say with a child. Adults seem to forget that. (49)

I was coming to realize Daddy just wasn't any good at the hard part of parenting. (57)

Seemed to be an awful lot of sad mysteries hanging about these folks, like a thick fog that is near impossible to navigate without tripping and busting something. (105)

"That's the thing about Mrs. Scott - if people dare her, or demean her, or she sees them being cruel, she's going to stand up to them. To her own detriment." (Malachi to Bea, 155)

But I was so tired of adults knowing things I didn't. Their keeping secrets or making decisions about me without asking what I might think. (188)

The terrible responsibilities he had shoveled onto me... (207)

"Parents sometimes do the absolute worst, most foolish things," she whispered, "thinking they are doing what's best for their children." (Mrs. Scott to Bea, 220)

No one had warned me that life could turn on a dime and with the force of an earthquake. (303)

Stubbornness? Was that all bad? If it meant staying strong in the face of terrible things and not giving up, it seemed a pretty good trait to me. (319)

"Sometimes life hands us family that has nothing to do with blood ties, Beatrice." (343) ( )
  JennyArch | May 24, 2023 |
First sentence: I woke up in a billowing pile of fresh-cut hay, wrapped in its miraculous smells--of buttercups, of those miniature fuzzy wild daisies, of grasshoppers. Not the big, prickly legged locusts that spit tobacco juice but the sweet little sliver of green grasshoppers that look like tiny blades of grass. No needles of dried-up, dead-yellow straw sticking and tickling either. Soft, like sleeping on a little mountain of emerald-colored lace.

Premise/plot: Bea and Vivian are abandoned (essentially) by their father and left in the barn of their mother's college roommate's mother's Virginia horse farm. He leaves a note to his eldest, Bea, explaining just why he's leaving them there. (Not why he's leaving perhaps, but why there.) The novel is set during the early years of the Depression. (FDR is not president yet, though an election year is coming up). Their father, a banker, has lost everything--including hope that he can take care of his two little girls. Mrs. Scott, who owns the horse farm, is on hard times herself; she may lose everything too. Bea doesn't reveal all, but she does her best to prove useful to Mrs. Scott. Her and Vivian will do their best to contribute enough to the house to stay welcome. Bea's usefulness with horses comes in handy.

My thoughts: I do not like horse books. Usually. I did LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this horse book, however. It's good to know there are exceptions to the rule. (Black Beauty also comes to mind as an exception.) I really loved the characters--both major and minor characters. The story was engaging. I didn't think I could care about horses and horse competitions, but, I was very invested in the outcome. ( )
  blbooks | May 16, 2023 |
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"I don't think she [Ginger] does find pleasure in biting," said Merrylegs; "it is just a bad habit; she says no one was ever kind to her, and why should she not bite?" -Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.... In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose ... the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man. -President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
To Peter and Megan, the bravest, most straight-to-the-fence souls I know. To our Aunt Ann, who, seventy years later, still hears the music of her favorite horse cantering through fields. And in memory of Megan's cantankerous, lionhearted champion, Mullingar, who love her and would take any jump "for her; and graceful Connor, a wondrous handful of a different sort, who won a pony club nationals with her and her Virginia teammates.
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I woke up in a billowing pile of fresh-cut hay, wrapped in its miraculous smells - of buttercups, of those miniature fuzzy wild daisies, of grasshoppers.
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Abandoned by her father after Black Tuesday, thirteen-year-old Bea convinces Mrs. Scott to take in her and her sister in exchange for farm work and Bea bonds with a seemingly untrainable horse.

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