Smiley continues the equine adventures of Abby Lovitt (True Blue, 2011, etc.).
When Abby, now 14 and a high school freshman, takes her beloved horse True Blue to a local horse show, she's shocked by how poorly they perform over fences. A clinic immediately following, with a nationally known rider, goes no better: While he seems to like Abby's riding, he has nothing nice to say about Blue and is, in fact, so rude toward Abby's group that one girl, Sophia, gets off her horse and refuses to ride again. Period. Abby gets a chance to school Sophia's lovely horse Pie in the Sky, which helps her understand why Blue is having trouble. A completely different sort of clinic, with a "natural horseman" (à la Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for The Horse Whisperer), gets Abby, Sophia and Blue back on the road to success. Smiley's writing is, as always, nearly flawless. Her evocation of the horse world of northern California in the 1960s is pitch-perfect, and Abby remains a complex and sympathetic character. But this story carries less weight than its three predecessors. Readers will believe from the start that Abby will sort out Blue's issues, and Sophia's problems are not particularly compelling. Without a strong problem, the story lacks tension and the resolution, force.
Despite this shortcoming, another interesting read for horse lovers and Abby Lovitt fans. (Fiction. 10-14)