A layered and thoughtful girl-meets-horse story with believable main characters.



In Brown’s (Hidden Star, 2016, etc.) middle-grade novel, a wild horse and a teenage girl must overcome challenges to learn to trust others.

In rustic Wyoming, Jesse Nolan, a 13-year-old white girl, wants nothing more than a horse of her own. At a special auction of wild mustangs that were captured in a federal herd-thinning operation, she quickly has her heart set on a young “curly,” a rare breed with a curly-haired coat. Jesse has the winning bid on that horse, but she must leave the newly named Curly Girl with her horse-savvy Uncle Joe for training before she can safely ride her. Jesse prepares for Curly Girl’s arrival, knowing that she’ll be responsible for the animal’s upkeep at the boarding facility. When a panicked Curly Girl is evicted from the stable for causing damage, Jesse reluctantly accepts the only solution—for Curly Girl to live at Jesse’s estranged father’s nearby ranch. Brown’s novel is based on an original story by the author and debut illustrator McDonald, both of whom are advocates for wild horses. Jesse faces challenges with Curly Girl, but she also confronts her own resentment at her dad, due to his controlling nature and her parents’ separation. However, this is as much Curly Girl’s story as it is Jesse’s; the novel shifts between the teenager’s narrative, told from a third-person perspective, to Curly Girl’s first-person tale. Over the course of the novel, the horse offers poignant observations regarding her life before her capture and her fear and confusion afterward. The story also addresses Curly Girl’s overwhelming desire to return to her old home and herd. Brown deepens the content as Curly Girl and Jesse slowly progress toward a sense of acceptance. The author also presents an informative history of horses from prehistoric times in the guise of Jesse’s classroom project; she also shows her respect for her young readers by not sugarcoating the terror that the wild horses feel during the government’s culling process. McDonald effectively complements the text with expressive, informed colored-pencil illustrations of horses in human and natural environments.

A layered and thoughtful girl-meets-horse story with believable main characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-46964-5

Page Count: 138

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


Troubled teen meets totemic catalyst in Mikaelsen’s (Petey, 1998, etc.) earnest tribute to Native American spirituality. Fifteen-year-old Cole is cocky, embittered, and eaten up by anger at his abusive parents. After repeated skirmishes with the law, he finally faces jail time when he viciously beats a classmate. Cole’s parole officer offers him an alternative—Circle Justice, an innovative justice program based on Native traditions. Sentenced to a year on an uninhabited Arctic island under the supervision of Edwin, a Tlingit elder, Cole provokes an attack from a titanic white “Spirit Bear” while attempting escape. Although permanently crippled by the near-death experience, he is somehow allowed yet another stint on the island. Through Edwin’s patient tutoring, Cole gradually masters his rage, but realizes that he needs to help his former victims to complete his own healing. Mikaelsen paints a realistic portrait of an unlikable young punk, and if Cole’s turnaround is dramatic, it is also convincingly painful and slow. Alas, the rest of the characters are cardboard caricatures: the brutal, drunk father, the compassionate, perceptive parole officer, and the stoic and cryptic Native mentor. Much of the plot stretches credulity, from Cole’s survival to his repeated chances at rehabilitation to his victim being permitted to share his exile. Nonetheless, teens drawn by the brutality of Cole’s adventures, and piqued by Mikaelsen’s rather muscular mysticism, might absorb valuable lessons on anger management and personal responsibility. As melodramatic and well-meaning as the teens it targets. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2001

ISBN: 0-380-97744-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

Did you like this book?



Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-82979-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet