CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 34. . . .May 3, 2013
Nine-year-old Tory has been in foster care since she was four when her teen mother wasn’t able to care for her properly. Tory’s sense of belonging and security were shaken when her long-term foster family moved when she was eight leaving her feeling unwanted and angry. These feelings had resulted in her next foster parent deciding that she would not work out. Now, Tory is staying on a ranch for the summer while her social worker tries to find her another home.
Although Tory is uncomfortable with her situation and is made to feel unwanted and inadequate by Julia, the family’s 11-year-old daughter, Tory’s being able to ride and care for the pony, Lucky, gives her hope that this temporary home could be permanent. When she overhears Cathy, Julia’s mom, wishing that the summer was over so she could have her “little family back”, she knows she will soon be gone.
Like Tory, Lucky, too, is unwanted. Julia has outgrown him and has graduated to the bigger equestrian horses the family trains. When a forest fire threatens the ranch, Lucky is left behind when he refuses to be loaded into the horse trailer. Abandoned and confused, Lucky knows he has to leave to escape the fire. Leaving the farm behind, Lucky soon finds that there are dangers other than the fire to be afraid of. Alone and terrified, he struggles to find water amongst the wolves, smoke, and unknown human hazards in his path. Will Lucky and Tory be able to find the security and welcome of a real home?
Becky Citra, an experienced author, develops an interesting plotline using a wide spectrum of characters. The conflict of a foster child looking for a place to belong is powerful. The story of a girl’s love for a pony is one to which many young girls can relate. The forest fire provides an added measure of urgency. Each of these plots can provide a great narrative arc. Together, however, they compete with each other for the reader’s attention.
Citra’s decision to use a limited omniscient point of view to tell Lucky’s and Tory’s tale allows her to tell the reader what is happening to Lucky while separated from Tory. Citra’s knowledge and love of the outdoors adds a level of authenticity to Lucky’s harrowing adventure. Indeed, the suspense and tension in the plot occurs when the author is following Lucky’s journey.
The problem with this type of narrative is the author’s impersonal voice can hinder the reader’s connection with the characters. This is a story that relies on the reader’s empathy toward Lucky and Tory to succeed. But, because their tales are related through an impersonal third voice, the reader may not be drawn into their feelings and their mental state the same way the reader would if Lucky and Tory were telling their own story. Further, Citra is inconsistent in presenting Lucky’s tale. She uses this method to explain what happened to Lucky when separated but does not continue to provide his point of view in the rest of the plot. As a result, the change of perspective to Lucky feels disconnected to the rest of the story.
In the end, I found Tory’s story unsatisfying. Too much emphasis was placed on Tory, the unwanted foster child, and not enough time was spent creating an individual kid struggling with her circumstances. The backstory had been considered – the reader does get snippets of it – but it was not used to develop Tory’s character. As a result, Tory remains a two-dimensional stereotype.
The Way Home will be picked up and enjoyed by the horse lovers, but it could have been more.
Recommended with reservations.
Jonine Bergen is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.