________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 5 . . . . October 28, 2005


At Risk. (SideStreets).

Jacqueline Guest.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2004.
192 pp., pbk. & cl., $6.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55028-846-6 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55028-847-4 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Problem youth - Juvenile fiction.
Horses - Juvenile fiction.
Theft - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 9 and up/ Ages 14 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4


"Hey, are you okay?"

Tia jumped, unaware she'd spoken out loud. It was Tyler Simmons, a fellow counselor. "Ah, sure, I'm fine. I was just thinking that this girl I have as my first client is a tough case. Sage Knowles is a runaway and a convicted thief, not to mention the little problem with drug addiction. Pretty scary stuff." As a new counselor at the Circle Four Ranch for troubled teens, Tia desperately wanted to do a good job, but she felt the pressure of being a rookie.


At age 19, Tia is only a few years older than her clients; her summer job at the Circle Four Ranch combines her passions for psychology and horses. The Equine Facilitated Counselling program offered at the Circle Four offers a "last chance" opportunity for at-risk girls to develop trust, self-confidence, and a life experience very different from the street and detention facilities in which they have spent their time. Tia has faced her own challenges, too: as a "black Canadian farm kid," she knows what it's like to be on the outside, and her sister's physical and emotional problems led to further social isolation for both of them. However, it's exactly those circumstances which have made her empathic and sensitive; life on a farm has made her physically fit and highly responsible. And so, she is, in many ways, perfect for this summer job.

      However, nothing in Tia's university studies has quite prepared her for Sage Knowles who is street-smart, hostile, and definitely not an urban cowgirl. Upon being introduced to the horse she will be riding during her stay, Sage's response is, "Sweaty, stinky horses are not high on my list of must-haves." Clearly, a tough case.

     Although Sage and Tia certainly try each other's patience, progress is made, and much to everyone's surprise, Sage does become very fond of her horse, Bouncing Betty. But, after a major fund-raising event at the ranch, money goes missing, and suspicion falls on Sage. And, it gets worse: Sage runs away from the ranch just as a forest fire in the next valley edges dangerously close to the Circle Four. Tia and her supervisor, a handsome counselor named Tyler, volunteer to attempt to find Sage, an inexperienced rider in a perilous situation. In the course of that rescue, all three - Tyler, Tia, and Sage - show their true character.

      At Risk is Jacqueline Guest's third novel for Lorimer's “SideStreets” novel series. The story moves along quickly, the dialogue is authentic (except for the last chapter, when Sage seems to try her hand at counseling her counselor), and the characters are completely credible (even when we find out the truth about "too good to be true" Tyler Simmons). You don't have to like horses to enjoy At Risk, but if you do, you'll enjoy it even more. Definitely recommended for young adult school library collections.


Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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