CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 9 . . . .December 21, 2007
Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis Press, 2007.
190 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Myra Junyk.
Robin sprang into the air half a stride too soon, well back from the fence. Faye threw herself onto his broad neck. They were in the air, arching over the massive oxer, every muscle and tendon in the pony's body straining to clear the width of the jump. Faye buried her face in the black mane, certain Robin wasn't gong to make it. She grabbed tight with her legs and prepared for the moment when his legs tangled with the jump's rails, tumbling him to the earth like a wounded bird.
A gentle tremor shook up through her legs into her body. Faye pushed back off Robin's neck as they landed, somehow right side up and on stride. She snatched up the reins and steered the pony through the finish line.
She eased him up slowly in a big circle. "You wonderful, wonderful pony!" she cried, putting his damp neck. She couldn't help herself; she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him.
Twelve-year-old Faye's love for her horse Robin makes her life on Hillcroft Farm with her grandmother Lucy and her older brother Riley bearable. Since the death of her parents when Faye was six, the children's grandmother, Lucy, has been their only family. By giving riding lessons to local children, Lucy has managed to keep the farm afloat, but times are very tough. They could even lose the farm. Nicole Walsh, one of Faye's riding competitors, has a solution to their problems! Her rich father will buy Robin from Faye and pay enough money to save the farm. However, Lucy has promised Faye never to sell Robin. When the truck breaks down and Lucy is faced with selling Hillcroft Farm just to make the payments on her debts, Faye decides that her beloved Robin must be sold – to rich and spoiled Nicole.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Nicole starts having problems handling Robin. She comes to stay at Hillcroft Farm to get riding lessons from Lucy and Faye in order to handle Robin. If Nicole can't ride Robin in competition, will the Walsh family want their money back? When it comes time for Nicole to compete, she is so terrified that she makes Faye promise to disguise herself as Nicole in order to ride Robin. However, Faye gets the opportunity to compete in the race on another amazing horse called Elan. Will Robin be able to handle the new horse? Will Robin keep her promise to Nicole? Will they really lose Hillcroft Farm?
High Fences gives readers a real taste of the competitive world of horse jumping. They learn about different kinds of jumps, bridles, bits, and other aspects of horsemanship. The extensive descriptions of horse jumping are both vivid and exciting. Readers who are horse lovers will truly enjoy reading this book. However, the primary focus of this novel is the relationship between a rider and her horse. Faye and her horse, Robin, seem virtually inseparable until Faye makes the difficult decision to sell him. At first, Faye is depressed about her loss, but she continues to ride other horses and to try to be brave.
Faye is presented as a multi-dimensional young lady. She makes a very mature decision when she decides that spoiled and rich Nicole can buy her horse in order to save the farm. However, she is not perfect. In fact, she is even punished by her grandmother Lucy for taking her frustrations out on Nicole and Robin. "I don't understand why I did it! Nicole's got everything and she just keeps bugging me and bugging me and suddenly I just wanted to hurt her like she keeps hurting me. Oh, I'm such a horrible person!" Faye harbors a secret hope that Robin will somehow be returned to her – and they will be able to be a pair once again!
On the other hand, the portrait of Nicole Walsh is much less complimentary. She is described as a spoiled brat who always gets what she wants – despite the human cost. When she is too afraid to ride Robin in the competition, the reader feels that justice has been served. In the end, however, she does overcome her fears and redeems herself in the eyes of the readers.
It is a shame that the writer did not take time to develop the minor characters more fully. Readers would have enjoyed more detail about Faye's best friend Kirsty, her grandmother Lucy and her brother Riley. In fact, Kirsty was the heroine of Julie White's first novel, The Secret Pony. All of these characters would have provided a fuller picture of Faye and her relationships. They would also have given the novel more dimension and depth. However, High Fences will definitely appeal to young female readers who love horses!
Myra Junyk is the former Program Co-ordinator of Language Arts and Library Services at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Currently, she is working as a literacy advocate and author.
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