RAJA

STORY OF A RACEHORSE

An outstanding debut novel for young people by retired amateur steeplechase jockey Hambleton, who uses her knowledge of horses and the equestrian world to tell of the tragedies and triumphs that befall a thoroughbred racehorse—from the horse’s point of view.

Reminiscent of Anna Sewell’s 19th-century classic, Black Beauty, in its deeply felt narrative as voiced by a thoroughbred racehorse, this first-time novel for ages 11 and up is written with empathy and a vivid sense of drama by Hambleton, a lifelong equestrian and former amateur steeplechase jockey. Raja, a promising foal of distinguished lineage, bears the “Mark of the Chieftain” on his forehead. Bedouin legend has it that such a mark predicts either “great glory” or “great despair” for a horse, and Raja assumes that his road to glory is assured after triumphs on the track as a 2-year-old lead to early Kentucky Derby buzz. But the world of racing has a dark side. An injury, sparked by Raja’s fear of thunderstorms, drops the sensitive horse into obscurity and worse. What follows is a colorful succession of owners and riders (good and bad), a brush with horse drugging and the ugly reality of “kill buyers,” who purchase former racehorses for their meat. Friends and enemies, both human and equine, appear and reappear in Raja’s life as fate takes him far from his pampered youth. Along the way, the elegant horse learns dressage, Cossack trick riding, the exhilarating art of steeplechase—and the depth of his own courage. Hambleton’s compelling prose—deftly interwoven with technical realities and the emotional investment inherent in horse training, racing, care and ridership—is accompanied by a glossary of horse-world terms and evocative pencil drawings by Margaret Kauffman, a professional sculptor and horsewoman. Lifelong equestrian Hambleton makes an impressive outing as a first-time author of juvenile fiction, weaving her knowledge and love of horses, horsemanship and the world of competitive racing into a moving narrative that will keep fellow horse-loving readers of any age enthralled.

 

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0615540290

Page Count: 261

Publisher: Old Bow

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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A tale that’s half engaging but never effectively plumbs its full potential.

A POSSIBILITY OF WHALES

Rivers introduces two middle schoolers who could help each other: Natalia, the motherless, paparazzi-plagued daughter of a loving, famous actor, and Harry, a transgender classmate who’s embracing his male identity in spite of his intolerant father’s rejection of his true self.

Natalia, new to Harry’s small, Canadian community, and her earnest, ebullient father, Xan Gallagher, share an understanding of the boy’s needs, but her classmates are more inclined toward ridicule. Unfortunately for Natalia, in an effort to find accepting male friends, Harry often pushes back against her yearning for a BFF. She needs one badly. Adolescence is sneaking up on her; it’s not a change she welcomes, and she feels it’s especially hard to navigate this complicated passage without the mother who apparently rejected her at birth. A scene in which she tries to select products for her first—unexpected—period in a supermarket is especially touching. Harry’s situation is ultimately helped by Xan’s intervention with Harry’s mildly star-struck parents. The tale is told in alternating third-person voices, but Natalia’s is far better captured than Harry’s; his complex needs and emotions are never fully explored the way Natalia’s are. In fact, Harry’s predictable history of transphobic assault, forced use of the girls’ bathroom, humiliation in front of his classmates, and constant deadnaming make him a collection of the pitiable tropes that are familiar to cis audiences but likely discouraging and alienating to trans readers. Harry, Natalia, and Xan all present as white.

A tale that’s half engaging but never effectively plumbs its full potential. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61620-723-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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Only for readers old enough to handle the idea of environmental catastrophe.

THE NEW OCEAN

THE FATE OF LIFE IN A CHANGING SEA

What will happen to jellies, orcas, sea turtles, tuna, corals, and blue-green algae in the “New Ocean” of the future?

Opening with the premise that global warming, pollution, acidification, and overfishing are dramatically and permanently changing the ocean—perhaps back to a primal sea—the author then considers the fates of six species, each one discussed in two double-page spreads that pair a substantial column of text on verso to a painting on recto that crosses the gutter. On the first spread, readers find a short description and bulleted facts and then, on the next spread, a column of dire prediction: jellies will flourish, devouring baby fish; orcas are already dying young in poisoned waters and in captivity; turtles are killed by oil-well accidents, litter, and fishing nets; tuna have been overfished and are full of poisonous mercury; coral bleaches and dies in too-warm, acidic, polluted waters; and blue-green algae will also flourish, especially a poisonous one called fireweed. The New Ocean will be oxygen-poor and could cause another mass extinction. These bleak forecasts are accompanied by Barnard’s beautiful oil paintings of sea creatures. His information is not inaccurate; his explanations are clear; the future he envisages is one of many possibilities. On a final spread he offers some suggestions for drastic public measures, personal actions, and an example of a teen invention, not enough to offset the gloomy aftertaste this warning is likely to leave in readers.

Only for readers old enough to handle the idea of environmental catastrophe. (sources, glossary) (Nonfiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-375-87049-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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