A debut children’s novel tells the story of a girl who finds herself at a horse camp.
Sheffield, Massachusetts, 1959. Eleven-year-old Charlene “Charley” Rittenberg loves horses. She reads Misty of Chincoteague over and over and is extremely jealous of a friend who gets to take horseback riding lessons. When Charley’s parents tell her they’re getting divorced, she’s devastated. But the silver lining is that they’ve decided to send her to camp for the summer while they settle their affairs—a horse riding camp. “It didn’t look too bad,” thinks Charley, examining the brochure. “Then I read the fatal words: ‘Come and meet your Summer Horse.’ I was hooked.” When Charley arrives at Secret Lake Camp in Vermont, however, things don’t go quite as planned. The other girls are mean to her, and riding horses turns out to be much scarier than she imagined. As everything goes wrong, Charley begins to despair: Her family is falling apart; she can’t make friends; and even her dream activity is turning out to be a disaster. Then Charley sees a black Morgan horse—her favorite breed—in a meadow on the far side of the woods. Her relationships with this horse and a new friend named Ethel Calhoun give her the confidence to confront the rest of the problems in her life. Shaw writes in a simple, accessible prose that manages to perfectly capture Charley’s preteen mix of wonder and practicality: “I was making a list in my head of everything I hated about horse camp when I heard something. It sounded like a nicker, or maybe a little whinny. A small black horse stretched his head over the bars of a split-rail fence.” Charley is a charmingly sympathetic character, humble but strong-willed, full of humorous observations about the world around her. The book, with its setting and influences, harkens back to an earlier era of children’s fiction: There’s no melodrama or snark, just complex, well-drawn characters and the timeless problems of growing up. Young readers who love horses should find much to enjoy at Secret Lake Camp.
A well-crafted tale about friendship, maturation, and horses.