What begins as a spare, elegiac story of a girl, a grandfather, and a golden horse (have your hankies out yet?) veers into National Velvet meets Deliverance in this offering from California writer Rosenthal, author of three earlier novels (Loop's End, 1992, etc.). When 12-year-old Elena goes to visit her hermit-like widower grandfather in a remote area of Wyoming one summer, she discovers she has a natural gift for riding. After a few sessions on the more sedate sorrel mares, and learning such things as how to shoot a rifle and drink whiskey, Elena is ready to tackle anythingeven riding the golden stallion that used to belong to her namesake grandmother. The older Elena was a rodeo legend, and now it seems evident that her granddaughter could follow in her footsteps. For the grandfather, young Elena's presence means a reconnection to life and to other human beings. He's been closed off since his wife, riddled with cancer, chose to ride away to die alone in the wilderness. This might all be pretty soppy stuff, but Rosenthal's clean prose style is effectively well-suited to the taciturn grandfather and the brooding presence of the stallion. Then, suddenly, trouble enters in the form of two biker punks, direct from central casting, complete with prison tattoos and evil intentions. It's bad news for the girl and her grandfather, but worse news still for the novel as it instantly becomes something less than it seemed to be. The ending plays itself out, with pure Hollywood predictability, in gunfire, floods, and helicopters. All that's missing is the schmaltzy soundtrackand the book we thought we were reading. A decent coming-of-age story that gallops off on a wrong turn into the overgrazed fields of movie-plot land.