CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 8. . . .October 22, 2010.
Stagestruck. (A Saddle Creek Book).
Shelley Peterson. Illustrated by Marybeth Drake.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter, 2010.
268 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Kim Aippersbach.
Dancer whinnied urgently from down the road. Henry responded. Ignoring the reins, he grabbed the bit in his teeth. He trotted down the road, around the curve past Hogscroft.
That's when Hilary saw Abby, carrying a bleeding mess of grey fur, followed by the tall, elegant stallion.
"Oh, my God," Hilary muttered under her breath. She cantered Henry right up to the trio, stopped him, then slid from his back onto the road.
"Abby! What happened?"
"Cody was caught in a leg-hold trap and the coyotes were coming to kill him. Dancer scared them off. Cody needs help. He's dying. Call Pete Pierson, Hilary. Now!"
"Can I help you carry him? He looks heavy." She reached out to help, but Cody growled and snapped. "No, I guess not," she said.
"He's in pain, Hilary, and he doesn't know you. Don't take offence."
"I won't, don't worry." Hilary remounted Henry. "I'll run home and phone Mr. Pierson. Give me Dancer's reins, and I'll pony him back."
"They're in my pocket."
"In your pocket? He's following you? I thought you were leading him. Dancer! Come!"
Dancer looked at Hilary, but stayed with Abby.
Recently reissued by Key Porter Books, Stagestruck is Peterson's third novel centered on the people and horses of Saddle Creek. Although each book is self-contained, characters and situations from the first two continue into the third. Abby Malone is the 16-year-old heroine of Stagestruck. Hilary, the protagonist of the first book, offers Abby the opportunity to train with her horse Dancer, a famous show jumper, and Abby competes with him at the Grand Invitational. The scene quoted from above is the bittersweet moment when Hilary realizes Dancer has switched allegiance from her to Abby. Although there is some description of the training process and how Abby wins Dancer's trust, the plot of this book focuses more on a revamped theatre that a neighbour opens up in his barn, and on the machinations of the evil Samuel Owens who keeps trying to kill Dancer and ruin the theatre. Owens' plots are foiled with the help of Cody, Abby's tame coyote, and a friendly ghost in the theatre. Abby and Dancer ride to victory in the Grand Invitational, and the neighbourhood production of Pinocchio is a great success.
Stagestruck has enough excitement and suspense to keep the reader turning pages. Horse lovers might be disappointed that Abby's relationship with Dancer isn't explored in more detail, but theatre lovers will be happy with all the descriptions of stage life, from auditions to rehearsals to performance. Because Abby's horsemanship was developed in the previous book, in this book, her skill is assumed. Here she gets to explore a new talent when she takes on the role of Blue Fairy. She also has an alcoholic mother and a romantic interest to complicate her life. Peterson may have given her a few too many things to deal with because each problem is solved in a fairly perfunctory manner. Hilary has a minor role as Dancer's previous rider, but her emotional journey is more convincing.
Omniscient narration allows Peterson to create a lot of her tension by showing us what Samuel Owens is up to. His motivations are not clearly explained, but, since he was the villain of a previous book, readers of the series will be familiar with him. He is suitably Machiavellian. We also get to see inside Dancer's and Cody's heads; Peterson makes her animal characters as engaging as the humans. In fact, since they save the day, Dancer and Cody could rightly be called the protagonists of the book!
Peterson's prose is unobtrusive and easy to read. Perhaps there are too many "slim, attractive," or "attractive, intelligent" women, but her descriptions are clear, and she has an authoritative knowledge of horses and theatre and the rural landscape of her setting.
Stagestruck will appeal most to readers of Dancer and Abby Malone as it provides a satisfying wrap-up for all of the characters from these two previous books. The plot felt somewhat contrived, as if it was just an excuse to spend time with the characters again (a not-uncommon symptom in sequels). But Stagestruck's an undemanding, enjoyable read, suitable for horse lovers and theatre lovers alike. The double wedding at the end of Stagestruck will make fans of Hilary and her grandmother very happy!
Kim Aippersbach is a free-lance editor and writer with three children in Vancouver, BC.
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