A heroine who takes pride in her ability to get thrown out of schools updates an old-fashioned girl-and-her-horse story.
Veteran author Peyton (Snowfall, 1998, etc.) presents Tessa, whose life is forever changed when her mother walks out on her drunken horse-breeder father, wrenching Tessa from the love of her small life, a blind broodmare. Eight years and several schools later, a thoroughly rebellious Tessa finds herself engaged by her vicious stepfather to work at a local racing stable, where she takes on as a charge Buffoon, the ugly colt of her beloved mare. Only Tessa has faith in Buffoon, a faith that is repaid when Buffoon becomes a contender in the Grand National—against her stepfather's own horse, prompting a nasty bit of sabotage. And this is only the first half of the book. A leisurely pace accommodates the twists and turns the novel takes, including Tessa's (unsuccessful) stabbing of her stepfather, a stint in a juvenile reformatory, the loss and rediscovery of Buffoon, and not one, but two, miraculous operations, one on the jockey Tessa comes to love and one to restore a blinded Buffoon's sight. Compelling storytelling, fascinating details of the English racing scene, a heroine with real psychological depth, and a well-rounded cast of secondary characters (with the exception of the wholly odious stepfather) carry the plot without missing a step over its contrivances to a satisfying steeplechase finish.
Does Tessa ride an aging, longshot Buffoon to victory in the Grand National? Of course—even a thoroughly modern girl-and-her-horse story needs to follow the rules. Does this matter? To a lover of good girl-and-her-horse stories, of course not. (Fiction. 12+)