Living in tiny Pratt, Kansas, almost-11-year-old Yonni Hale can only dream of a different life: “Surely, somewhere, some way, life had to be easier, more exciting, more magical….Maybe it would just come to her right here, if she wished upon a star hard enough.” As unlikely as that seems, after her father accidentally hits her on the head, Yonni has a visitation from the magical world—a strange vision in which four horses turn into four large spirit-women, who show her a small town being struck by a tornado; they ask whether she will help a mysterious Her, advising Yonni to “seek the Vent.” Meanwhile, in the Mexican Quarter of town, the rented homes of Yonni’s friends are being threatened by a greedy political scam involving a highway project. There might be an out: Margaret Bronte, an elderly spinster, owns a house in the area slated for razing, and if it can be declared of historic value, perhaps the project can be delayed or blocked. Can Yonni and her friends save the neighborhood? And can Yonni harness the winds to help? Hill’s debut—a sequel, Yonni Hale and the South Wind, is planned—draws on powerful themes common to YA fantasy (some of which, like the Dark is Rising series, she name-checks): An otherwise ordinary young person with a special destiny gets supernatural help and guidance. Wind and storm are interwoven throughout, whether explicitly in the names of the horse-women (Feng Popo, the Chinese wind goddess) or more subtly (the name Bronte means thunder; Yonni’s Grandma Izzy has a horse named Lightning). While Hill does a good job getting inside Yonni’s head, the storytelling is leisurely and sometimes dull, full of details that don’t contribute much to the story. After 500-plus pages, the cliffhanger ending is a letdown.
Slow pace holds back this tale of a spunky young heroine.