Oliver’s (Write Now!, 2016, etc.) middle-grade novel tells the story of a boy’s relationship with an unusual horse.
Sam isn’t a great fan of horses despite growing up on a farm as the son of two respected horse trainers. They specialize in breaking racehorses. Trumpeter, his father’s old racehorse, is one of their testier animals, and Sam’s mother, Sasha, tells him that they’re about to acquire another named Dogs of War. “He has some…quirks,” she explains. “His owner is hoping that I can ‘teach him some manners.’ ” In a riding accident, Trumpeter shatters Sasha’s leg. Sam struggles to get her to safety before the old racehorse can do more damage. With his mother bedridden, 12-year-old Sam must help his father continue operations at the farm, including training Dogs of War. Sam feels an immediate grudge toward the equine, who is the offspring of Trumpeter, but he is drawn to Dog’s strange, unhorselike behavior: lolling his tongue from the side of his mouth, wagging his tail, crouching on his front legs like his canine namesake. Despite his initial inhibitions, Sam quickly bonds with Dog, closely enough that Sam begins to wonder if there’s a way that the horse could help him win money to help the struggling farm. Sam’s father used to win races on Trumpeter for purses. Couldn’t Sam do the same thing on Dog? Oliver writes in a clear, swiftly flowing prose. She manages to construct her animal characters so that they feel just as round and real as their human counterparts. The reader gets a good sense of the size and potential destructiveness of the horses, and Sam’s struggles around them are thus cast in greater relief. While the plot sometimes leans toward the predictable, young readers will likely find much to enjoy as Sam and Dog challenge one another to grow into better, more mature versions of themselves.
A well-crafted middle-grade horse novel.