English’s debut views a girl’s coming-of-age through the lens of her relationship with the thoroughbred her father leaves behind when her parents split up.
It’s the summer before Teagan starts high school, and tensions between Robert and Susanna French are evident—and skillfully rendered from the anxious, bewildered perspective of their daughter—even before he moves out to live with another woman. Teagan decides to go to a girls boarding school with a riding program not far from the family’s home in rural Virginia; that way she can get away from her shellshocked mother without cutting herself off entirely. She navigates the social complexities of her new environment while grappling with Ian, a headstrong, “seasoned foxhunter” bought to assuage Robert’s midlife crisis and not the easiest horse for an adolescent girl to handle. Short, brooding first-person interpolations from Teagan many years later suggest that things are not going to turn out well in the main narrative, which appears to take place in the late 1980s. Indeed, even as Teagan develops a rapport with Ian, her new friendships are faltering, her schoolwork is slipping, and her mother is worried enough to send her to a psychologist, caustically dubbed “the vampire” by Teagan. English’s stripped-down prose works well to convey Teagan’s increasing alienation as she decides not to go back to boarding school and pulls further away from her father after he announces he’s marrying the new girlfriend. But this spare style also gives the novel an oddly distanced quality; none of Teagan’s relationships have much emotional force, with the notable exception of her complex bond with Ian—which makes the impulsive decision that triggers the denouement all the more jolting. It doesn’t seem to fit what until then has been a fairly typical coming-of-age tale, and an epilogue set in Arkansas is simply baffling.
Very well written but alternately predictable and jarring.