CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 8 . . . .December 8, 2006
Shelley Peterson. Illustrated by Marybeth Drake.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 2006.
312 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Brianne Grant.
Do you want to try something wonderful, Bird girl?
Sure, Sunny. What?
Iíve never tried it before. Just sit up and hang on.
Eva opened her mouth with a response, but she changed her mind. Mouth still open, she watched Bird as she quietly sat. The big horse sprang up in the air and kicked out with his back legs. He landed, prepared himself, and did it again.
ďAirs above the ground!Ē gasped Hannah. ďI canít believe it!Ē
Sunny where did you learn that?
I watched the dressage horses at my old stable.
Thanks for staying off my mouth, it helps.
Now they were skipping together. Two canter strides on the left lead, two canter strides on the right.
It was lovely. The horse was simply stunning, and Bird had never looked more beautiful. Her crazy hair peeked out from under her black hard hat and the paint streaks lit up her face. These two unique creatures were totally compatible.
If you are a horse fanatic, Sundancer, by Shelley Peterson will thrill you with details about horses and the moving connection between humans and animals. At Saddle Creek Farm, a 13-year-old elective mute, Bird, strives to find a place in her family and community. Her mother, Eva, left her at the farm to live with her Aunt Hannah two years earlier.
Eva is not the only person who cannot or will not stay with Bird because of her speech difficulties. Her high school principal, Stuart, is threatening to disallow her to return to school next year. Hannah cannot afford to send her to private school and also faces the challenge of reconciling Bird and Evaís relationship. Eva is embarrassed about Bird and pretends she is her aunt on a visit to the farm with her fiancee and other daughter; yet, within a few weeks the two rediscover themselves as a family. The rediscovery of their relationship occurs too rapidly to be realistic or plausible and hastily brushes off the years of neglect and psychological damage that Bird suffers.
Although Bird does not speak to humans, she does possess a very special gift for communication. She speaks to all of the animals on the farm through her mind, including the farm dog, Hector, and all of the horses. These conversations can become unbelievable at times and often seem awkward. However, Birdís conversations with the new horse, Sundancer, flow more naturally, perhaps as the personality of this horse is much better developed. Both Bird and Sundancer strive to be understood and loved while also struggling through traumatic memories.
As Bird develops a very meaningful relationship with Sundancer, many conflicts arise as the ownership of the horse comes into question. Hannah and Bird must struggle to keep Sundancer, with help from Abby Malone, a past star in Petersonís books.
The novel includes simple and small line drawn illustrations by Marybeth Drake at the end of each chapter. They build on the quaint farm setting while creating a visual sense of horse related items and a few of the animals. Furthermore, the placement creates a satisfying sense of completion and also gives a tiny glimpse into the next chapter.
Sundancer is written in third person with a very slow moving linear plot. The book is quite dense and includes many detailed descriptions of horse maneuvers. These passages do use short sentences and heightened language to create a sense of intense action; however, I have admittedly never been a horse admirer and found these passages very repetitive, long and uninteresting. This book may be too slow, lengthy, and dense for many readers of the intended audience, and the intense focus around horses is likely to attract horse lovers only.
Sundancer is an interesting book that captures the emotional journey of a young girl striving to be understood. The intense bond between Bird and Sundancer shows that beauty and intelligence can flourish when a person (or animal) is willing to work at fostering trust, compassion and love.
Brianne Grant is a student in the Master of Arts in Childrenís Literature at the University of British Columbia.
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