CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 12 . . . .February 18, 2005
Free Horse is the seventh book in the "Mustang Mountain" series. Those who have been reading the series (I've read the first two) will find this a very satisfying addition to the series.
Meg is a 15-year-old whose visit to Mustang Mountain Ranch has ended, and she is about to return to the city. Thomas, an 18-year-old aboriginal on whom Meg has a crush, is driving her to the airport. Meg, still thrilled with Mustang Mountain and passionate about the horses there, doesn't want to leave.
Though Free Horse has a quickly moving, dramatic plot, and well crafted dialogue, what really makes the novel is Sharon Siamon's realistic, sympathetic and deep portrayal of Meg. When she and Thomas come across a woman, Ruby, who needs to be taken to the hospital, Meg readily decides they must do it, even though it means Meg will miss her plane and Meg doesn't know how she will be able to afford a later flight.
The "Mustang Mountain" series takes place in a fairly isolated area, one with some violent storms and floods, unreliable communications, and sometimes impassable roads. The fairly small number of people there must both fend for themselves and, when necessary, help each other out. These requirements include young people. So it is believable when Ruby asks Meg to stay and help. There's cooking and other tasks that need to be done at Ruby's tourist camp. More daunting, someone needs to take care of Ruby's stepson, an impulsive 10-year-old boy, Tyler. With some nervousness, but realizing this gives her a chance to stay and would pay for changing her flights, Meg agrees. As a 15-year-old would, Meg takes quite seriously her responsibility to take care of Tyler. The reader never really gets to know Tyler well, but there are hints about his character. He's bored and, having been allowed to pretty much run wild, acts impulsively and doesn't pay much attention. But he has adopted and cares for a kitten, Scraps. So later, his concern about the horses is believable. Meg, wisely, knows it will take time to bring Tyler's behaviour around. Meg makes some mistakes, of course, but copes well.
The more dramatic parts of the plot focus around Tyler's brother Brett, 18. Siamon keeps readers in suspense about what Brett is like or what he is doing. Meg is surprised by the hostility between Brett and Thomas, a hostility that neither of them explains. At first, she assumes Thomas isn't giving Brett a chance, but she learns from Tyler that Brett makes racist remarks and that there are hints that Brett and his friends might be catching and hurting wild horses. Brett comes and goes, gets drunk, and is all the more menacing because Siamon keeps readers unsure just how bad he is and just what he might do.
The plot, part of which involves the fate of the wild horses, does get nicely resolved, but again what makes the novel is Siamon's portrayal of Meg. Meg is generally aware of her various feelings and makes considered choices. Through the events, Meg has come to realize that, though her feelings for Thomas are genuine, she has idealized him. Having successfully risen to the challenge of taking care of Tyler, she also now finds herself thinking of her responsibilities to her own family at home.
When a book is one of a series, readers obviously like to find the characters and plot devices that have appealed to them previously. However, Siamon is wise enough to realize that doesn't mean characters shouldn't develop. Readers will appreciate Meg's growth as a person. Free Horse is an excellent addition to the series.
Denise Moore reviews children's and teen's books for Hi-Rise, a Toronto, ON, community newspaper.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.