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 mixed bag for epilepsy representation; satisfying as a friendship tale.


Two very different kids who need the same dog realize they both sometimes feel like they’re walking around on Mars.

Parker and Sven, two White 13-year-olds, are both nervous starting a new year at their school in the Netherlands. Parker’s recovering from a traumatic experience, and Sven hasn’t adapted to his epilepsy diagnosis. The first day of school begins badly for both of them: Sven, trying to impress people, gives Parker a mean nickname, then closes the day with a very public seizure. He frequently experiences generalized tonic-clonic seizures and can no longer bike or swim, and he has a service dog, Alaska, whom he resents. But only four months ago, Alaska was Parker’s pet. In alternating perspectives, Parker and Sven confront trauma, grief, and how they feel like aliens at school. The premise that Parker’s former house pet is now Sven’s skilled seizure dog after only one month of training bends credulity to the breaking point in a novel packed with little informational lessons about epilepsy and service animals. The book was translated from the original Dutch into British English, and although the text has been largely Americanized, it frequently uses the word fit for seizure—considered ableist and pejorative phrasing in the U.S. (though not in the U.K.). On the other hand, it’s wonderful to see a helmet normalized for a disabled protagonist who’s prone to falls.

A mixed bag for epilepsy representation; satisfying as a friendship tale. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78607-880-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Rock the Boat/Oneworld

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A wrenching piece with a wisp of hope for the protagonists if not for the rest of their world.


With severe drought, child enslavement, and multiple shootings of people and dogs, this slim volume isn’t for the faint of heart, though it repays those who soldier on.

In an unspecified African “place of dust and death,” in a story somewhere between realism and fable, Nandi the dog narrates an opening scene in which Sarel sees her parents gunned down. The gunmen, failing to find a water source, set the house afire and depart, leaving Sarel orphaned on her desert homestead. An underground grotto with a well sustains Sarel and her pack of dogs—fully family to her—while they recover from smoke inhalation and bullet wounds. In a nearby city, Musa sits in chains, taken outdoors only when gunmen (those who shot Sarel’s parents) need a dowser—Musa hears a buzz in his skull when water’s nearby. One generation ago, there were faucets and lawn sprinklers; now, gangs kill for a water bottle. When Musa escapes and Sarel’s well runs dry, the tale’s fablelike nature makes their meeting inevitable, even in the desert. The narration uses primarily Sarel’s and Musa’s perspectives, describing nature sparely and vividly. Thirst and heat are palpable as kids and dogs fight fatal dehydration. Occasionally, Nandi narrates, in broken English more distracting than doglike.

A wrenching piece with a wisp of hope for the protagonists if not for the rest of their world. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-97651-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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