CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 8 . . . . December 9, 2005
Fifteen year-old Becky Sandersen is taking part in her first endurance race, The Wildflower 50. Riding in place of her injured mother, Becky is determined to complete the fifty-mile challenge over rough mountainous terrain.
Crewing for Becky is Rob, a handsome 16-year-old, who has been working at her ranch all summer. Becky and Rob have developed feelings for one another that they have, as yet, been unable to express.
To complicate matters, Tara, a spoiled and beautiful girl, is also entered in the race. Rob agrees to crew for her as well, stirring jealous feelings within Becky. As the story progresses, the reader discovers that Tara has an alternate agenda in the race—she must beat Gwendolyn and Graham Belmont, whom she refers to as the Gee Gees, in order to secure a trip to the Middle East sponsored by a wealthy sheik. Tara claims the Gee-Gees will stop at nothing to prevent her horse, Hawk, from beating their Arabians. Tara’s helmet is crushed, she is sent along the wrong trail and a dangerous mixture of electrolytes is stolen from her trailer.
Throughout the race, Becky struggles with her feelings of jealousy and her conscience. Her mother has taught her that endurance racing is all about helping others, and she finds herself time and time again held up from the race while assisting Tara.
In the end, Tara manages to finish ahead of the Gee-Gees, the deceit of the Belmonts surfaces, and Rob professes his feelings for Becky. Unfortunately, Becky is unable to complete the race, though she does win a special award given to the person who best exemplifies the spirit of the sport.
In her novel, Dark Horse, Sharon Siamon conveys the positive message of endurance racing—helping others—while presenting the reader with vivid landscapes and equestrian exploits. The vocabulary, expressions and action vis-à-vis endurance racing all add to the credibility of the text.
There are several inconsistencies, however, worth noting. The dialogue often seems unrealistic in relation to the age of the characters. For example, Siamon has 16-year-old Rob exclaiming “Jumpin’ catfish” and 15-year-old Becky singing “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” sound effects and all. The dialogue and vocabulary suggest an audience in the 8-10 year-old range, and yet, a young audience may not necessarily be suited to the romantic focus of the plot. As well, there seems to be a great build-up with regards to Tara’s secret. Yet, it is almost anti-climactic when the reader discovers (in chapter 12 of 21) that she is merely vying for a trip to the Middle East. Though the story sends a positive message about helping others and controlling jealousy through Becky’s actions, this is marred by the fact that a spoiled and selfish Tara ultimately achieves her goal and has seemingly grown little through her experience.
Dark Horse will appeal to horse-lovers as well as followers of the “Mustang Mountain” series.
Marina Cohen has a Master’s Degree in literature from the University of Toronto and has been teaching in the York Region District School Board for 10 years.
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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.