Horse fever strikes most girls at some point, but perhaps not as irrevocably as it does Hattie, who, along with her friend Delores, kidnaps a horse bound for euthanasia and drives him out West in hopes of giving him the chance of being a wild horse, if only for the short time he has left.
But an ailing horse isn't the only reason to escape from their small New Hampshire town in Joseph Monninger's Finding Somewhere. As they put the miles between themselves and their families, both girls begin to realize that life is a series of beginnings and endings, and that independence is more than just a trip away from home.
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One thing I really appreciated about your book is that you don't romanticize the horse. Is it healthy for teens to read about the reality of old horses?
I don't believe in using kid gloves for any of this stuff! Most of my [books for teens] revolve around animals. I'm a pet owner, I love my dogs, I love my cats, I've raised chickens, the whole bit. As far as romanticizing, I don't think it does anybody any good. Kids read fairy tales to unconsciously play with the idea of death. We know it's fake, we know it's make believe, but we can still indulge ourselves.
Someone once said that's the reason little boys are so enamored of dinosaurs. They're big, powerful, very scary and safely dead by many, many thousands of years. I think kids know things die—certainly teenagers know it—so there's no reason to pretend they don't.
You use the structure of a journey in your book. How did this come about?
Frankly, it was a Eureka moment. For any writer, a journey provides an obvious narrative line, so I love that. I got the girls to kidnap the horse and put it in trailer, and then I thought, “Why are they going? What are they actually doing?” I knew they were taking the horse away because the horse was going to be put down the next day, and then I figured out they themselves had some issues and were searching for things as well. After a few chapters I finally got the idea that they wanted the horse to just be a horse for a day, and I really liked that idea.
A lot of the book is about the two teenage girls learning to be women. Did you have this in mind when you first started writing?
Every piece of writing, especially any novel, has to have two things—the plot line, which is the story we all lean toward and say, “And then what happened? And then what happened?” That's what we get around a campfire.
But what makes a novel good is the second element, which is generally characterization. I'm always mindful when I begin a novel that not only do I have to come up with a story, but I also have to have compelling characters and I have to put them under pressure. I think it was Hitchcock who said that two people having tea is not a story, but put a bomb under the table and it gets pretty interesting. So these girls, I knew they had to be going from something, there had to be something to propel them, something pushing them out of the nest.
How do you write so well in the voice of a teenage girl?
People always say you should write what you know, which I think is a stupid thing to say. I always thought you should write what you understand, which is different. I don't know about mystery, I've never lived it, but I can understand what it might be like to be involved in a mystery.
In that spirit, writing about young women experiencing a problem or situation—well, we're all human. Women have a slightly different take on the world but still a human [one]. I grew up with a mom and sisters, and I'm married to a woman, so I have some sense of what women might be thinking about. People write from different points of view all the time. We have to pretend to be all sorts of things, that's part of the job of being a writer.
The Fergusons, whom Hattie and Delores steal the horse from, and Fry, who gives him his last home, both take in unwanted horses, but they do it in very different ways. What were you trying to explore with that dichotomy?
I never made that connection! That's a good discussion for an English class. The Fergusons strike me as classically New England upper-crust people. They mean well and they do good, but they're a little bit removed, whereas Fry is right in there with the horses and in some ways has a slightly more vulnerable, more approachable heart than the Fergusons.
I just got back from Ireland, and one thing that struck me is that they never put their horses in barns, they just stay out all the time, and they do that out West as well. In the East, if you don't provide some sort of shelter for your horses you can get in trouble with the humane society or somebody. There's a slightly different attitude about it.