CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 10. . . .January 9, 2009
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2008.
142 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.
Review by Deborah Mervold.
The Siena countryside was breathtaking. The narrow road twisted and turned. Neatly trained grapevines faded from view, then reappeared on the next hill. Row upon row of olive trees were broken here and there by stone cottages. Angela's Uncle Giorgio gave her a running commentary on each farm they passed, outlining the marriages, divorces, births and deaths of each family.
"This," he said with a sweep of his arm, "is Tuscany, Angie."
Angela watched a dapple-grey horse gallop through a distant field. His long trail streamed behind him as he ran. He kicked up his heels and tossed his head. Angela couldn't take her eyes off him as they drove by. "What a beautiful horse!" she exclaimed, turning to her uncle.
This is Angela's first view of the horse, Tempesta, or Storm as Angela names him. He is known as a crazy horse. Tempesta is very fast but is unpredictable as he often suddenly rears up and throws his rider seemingly without reason. Angela befriends this horse of Barazzo, her uncle and aunt's next door neighbour, when she travels to Italy to visit with her mother's relatives. Angela also meets Barazzo's daughter, Catarina, who is in a wheelchair, recovering from a throw by Tempesta. Angela knows something is wrong with the horse, and when she is offered a job exercising the horses at the Barazzo's ranch, she takes the job immediately. Everyone in Siena is preparing for a famous race called the Palio which is a pageant of colour and horses.
Angela sets out to see what is wrong with Tempesta. She knows there is something which she discovers when she rides him without permission. Angela realizes that Tempesta is partially blind in one eye. When something catches his attention, he doesn't see it in perspective, and it scares him. Once the blindness is diagnosed, a patch on the eye corrects the problem. Angela then sets out to have Tempesta as one of the horses in the Palio race. She encounters Fabrizio who is the jockey chosen to ride Tempesta. Fabrizio says there isn't a horse that he can't break, and he sets out to destroy Tempesta's spirit. When Tempesta injures him, Barazzo asks Angela if she will ride in the race even though girls aren't allowed to be jockeys usually and because the course is very dangerous. Back home, Angela has had experience as a show jumper, and so she approaches the race with some experience.
Angela agrees even though her aunt and uncle are afraid for her. Valente, another jockey, sets out to stop her from winning despite the fact that Tempesta clearly has the right stuff to win. To complicate her life, Angela likes Tony, another jockey on the Barazzo's ranch, but he breaks her heart when she sees him with another girl. Both Catarina and Angela's aunt have warned Angela about Tony and his reputation. Before anything drastic can occur, Angela discovers that what they have told her is true.
The story begins with Angela's uncle Giorgio driving her by the Barazzo ranch and telling her about the importance of the horse race to the community, and it ends with the horse race. Through the preparation, Angela helps Catarina overcome her fear of riding and discover the knowledge that she can look to herself to make the situation right.
There are several themes running throughout the novel including the horse story and the girl who believes in the horse when no one else does, the romance of a girl who is told that the boy is not for her and she sees that is true, and a story of courage as a young girl encourages another young girl who has been injured by the horse, all of this being told with a backdrop of a famous race in Siena, Italy. Angela comes to realize the value and love of family, both that of her mother at home and the loss of her father the previous year, as well as the concern and care of her Italian relatives. The characters are true to life although not overly described. The dialogue is realistic, and the plot is developed in an interesting and sequential way. The romance is very carefully explored and suitable for the intended age group. Language is also appropriate.
The book is developed into 21 chapters. The great variety in sentence type and length makes the novel an interesting read. Siena Summer would appeal to a variety of readers including horse lovers, adventure readers and realistic fiction fans. It would be a good addition to school, public and personal libraries. Although suitable both for male and female readers, it would be popular with girls who enjoy stories with girls as the protagonist. The pageantry and description of the Palio makes for interesting reading and adds a unique look at a custom that affects a community. Angela grows and matures during the story.
Deborah Mervold is an educator and teacher-librarian from Shellbrook, SK. She is presently employed by Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) working in the areas of faculty training and program development.
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