In Danforth’s (Stunner: A Ronnie Lake Mystery, 2013) illustrated middle-grade novel, a young girl gets a special birthday gift—a magical horse—with whom she goes on adventures, including protecting a wild herd of mustangs from horse thieves.
When young Moxie Wyoming Woodson asks for a horse for her 10th birthday, she expects a young, strapping animal. Instead, she gets an old, gray mare as a gift from her dad and grandfather. Although Misty was once a “legend,” she’s now being retired from Darwin Ranch, and Moxie’s family thinks they’d be perfect companions. At first, Moxie is disappointed because she won’t be able to take her barrel racing, but soon afterward, she starts to realize that Misty is no ordinary horse—she has a number of secret, special powers. She can understand Moxie and communicate with her through winking and foot stamping, in addition to even more fantastical powers such as temporarily regaining her youth, flying, turning invisible, and even opening up passageways to magical places. Later on, with Misty’s help, Moxie attempts to save a number of mustangs threatened by a gang of horse thieves. Aside from McCluskey’s lovely illustrations, Danforth’s novel has many charming features that should appeal to young readers, including a precocious, likable heroine and a depiction of the ordinary world punctuated by flashes of magic. It isn’t the sort of fantasy novel that plunges its characters into an epic adventure; instead, it offers a quieter sort of magical realism that is quite appealing. At the same time, its episodic nature and slow pace also make for a read that’s rarely if ever truly exciting, and unlike the classics of children’s literature, it doesn’t seem to have any profound aspirations or deep/deceptively simple lessons. It’s a gentle, straightforward, and ultimately not particularly memorable tale that has numerous humble pleasures but little that feels particularly significant or lasting.
A pleasant novel that may have trouble standing out for young readers.