A Vermont farm girl’s new friend fights for animal rights.
Joni, a 12-year-old white girl, loves the quiet and calm of her family’s sheep farm; she loves riding her pony, Archie, after school. But her best school friends don’t live nearby, so when a new girl, Chess (also white), moves into a house Joni passes on her rides, she’s intrigued by the possibility of a new friend. Chess loves Joni’s horse, kittens, and sheep, but she asks uncomfortable questions: don’t the sheep mind being shorn? Milked? Eaten? Joni doesn’t know how to answer, but she does challenge Chess’ interpretation of her neighbor’s treatment of her miniature horses—Chess is certain their muzzles, which restrict them from overgrazing, are cruel, while Joni knows they keep the animals safe on lush pasture. When Chess steals the minis and sets them free to eat, the near disaster challenges their budding friendship. Chess’ back story is muddled, so readers are not entirely sure how she came to her positions, and some of the characterizations are unclear, but Joni’s first-person voice is fresh and true. As always, Haas knows her horses, and she explores the issue of animal rights with sensitivity to both sides.
A satisfying read. (Fiction. 8-12)