An 11-year-old white girl’s bond with a mischievous Shetland pony helps her heal from the trauma of losing her mother.
When Yonder’s mother was killed in an automobile accident four years earlier, her orchard-worker white father started drinking heavily, and Yonder stopped speaking out loud. Now, Yonder locks her father in his bedroom every evening because she is afraid he, too, will disappear from her life, walking out in a drunken haze. Bullied and unable to speak up for herself, Yonder begins skipping school and makes friends with a pudgy Shetland pony she names Dirt. Horrified when Dirt’s owner offers him for sale for horsemeat, Yonder hides the pony in her house. When a social worker sees the state of Yonder’s home life, Yonder is sent to a foster home—and promptly runs away to find Dirt. While the story’s essence works, the delivery lacks polish. Overexplanation and frequent adverbs may exasperate readers who like to figure things out for themselves. Yonder’s first-person narration occasionally strikes a prim middle-aged note (“Every child should experience it. I highly recommend playing hooky”) that rings false, and the use of speaking-themed names (Mutter Street, Bellow Avenue, Trudy Trumpet, Mrs. Prattle) feels forced.
This story of a healing relationship between a traumatized girl and a pony needs some mucking out to make it shine. (Fiction. 8-12)