Trainers in Nebraska test a racehorse to see if it’s recovered from earlier problems. Afterward, the horse’s owner makes her decision: The filly must go. The horse is sent off to auction, where the audience includes “kill buyers” looking for meat. Thankfully, she’s purchased by Richard, who likes to give horses a chance to recover at his holding facility before taking such drastic measures. The narrative then shifts to Max, a 16-year-old girl who wears chaps and sells drugs to college kids. She lives alone in a tiny apartment in the bad part of town and rises early to work at an elite stable outside of the city. It’s soon revealed that Max used to be a guest of these stables, but she’s now employed there as part of her plan to live on her own after fleeing her abusive stepfather. Max’s flighty mother, Sue, who’s in denial about her family’s problems, instructs stable owner Kerry to buy Max a horse. Max trains her first selection, but her initial joy soon turns to heartbreak. By the novel’s end, however, the aforementioned filly, now dubbed “Tall Omaha,” becomes Max’s new horse. Oakhurst, a former Grand Prix show jumper who’s worked as an animal cruelty investigator, offers a wonderfully immersive tale that draws readers deep into the highs and lows of the horse world. Much of the novel is told from Tall Omaha’s perspective, and the horrors she experiences at auction and within Richard’s operations read almost like a slave narrative. The author effectively conveys Max’s love of horses—understandable given the inadequate humans around her—and depicts the anguished Richard’s interactions with Tall Omaha as touching, near-telepathic encounters. Sometimes the focus on horse-related details results in narrative gaps; it’s unclear what city Max lives in, for example. Overall, however, Oakhurst sets up a solid foundation for a trilogy featuring Max and her equine companion.
A promising YA fiction debut from an equestrian expert.