In this sequel to A Difficult Boy (2008), 16-year-old Daniel Linnehan, now released from his indenture and the owner of a chestnut mare named Ivy, finds freedom difficult to manage.
Suspicious New Englanders (it’s 1839, and anti-Irish prejudice is rampant) object to his air of prosperity. He joins the peddler Jonathan Stocking and Billy, the ragtag child who accompanies him, out of a sense of self-preservation, but gradually, he begins to see them as family. When Jonathan joins up with an old friend who owns a circus, Daniel finds he can put his talents to good use retraining an equestrian act and teaching Ivy to perform in the ring. Meanwhile, Billy’s older brother, Liam, survives a fever that kills his younger brothers with the help of a neighboring whore; his father, who previously sold Billy to Jonathan, has abandoned him. Liam believes Billy—who’s really a girl, Nuala—is dead. Eventually, Billy confronts her father, who tries to take her back, seeing that she can now produce an income. How she and Daniel find peace in unlikely circumstances provides a satisfying end to their joint saga. Fluid writing and a true sense of history—including fascinating insights into early circuses—raise this well above the usual. Barker’s characters are nuanced, difficult, and real, and so is her sense of horses.
An absorbing look into a patch of past not often examined. (Historical fiction. 8-14)