“The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls” by Anton DiSclafani tells the story of Thea Atwell, who has been sent from her home in Florida at the age of 15 to the riding camp by her family. The camp is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and far from Thea’s home in distance and comfort levels.
The era is the 1930s and many families are suffering from the Great Depression. Thea’s father is a doctor and her mother’s family’s orange orchards have kept them financially stable. Thea has a twin brother and spends her days with him as well as her horse. The twins are very sheltered and rarely are around other children, except for their first cousin, Georgie. The story is told from Thea’s perspective reflecting back to her time at the camp and the incident that led to her being sent there.
The camp teaches girls to be ladies and also teaches them how to ride and show horses. For Thea, that was the easy part as she has a great love and talent for riding horses.
Throughout Thea’s time at camp, we are introduced to many characters, including other girls and staff at the camp. Thea begins to truly love the structure and relies on her friendships at the camp. What is difficult for her is the knowledge that she did a “bad” thing and being away from her twin brother. The “bad” thing has repercussions not only for Thea and her family but another family as well. Will the riding camp be able to help Thea become a lady, as well as help her forgive herself?
I was excited to read this book as it has been receiving a lot of press and I had seen excellent reviews for it. Unfortunately, I think I am in the minority here, this book didn’t resonate with me.
Even though you can probably guess the “bad” thing Thea did to get sent away, you don’t find out the whole story until over half way through the novel. This “bad” thing is mentioned over and over again and is part of the reason you are interested in turning the pages, but after a bit, I was tired of hearing about the “bad” thing and just wanted to know what it was. Even though my guess was correct, there was another twist to that part of the story that I wasn’t expecting.
Since the book was set in the 1930s and is one of my favorite eras to read about, I was really hoping for more of a historical account of the time. Instead, the story was more about Thea’s relationship with her family and the girls at the camp. I appreciated the creativity the author used in developing the characters in the story. Each of the girls at the camp entertained me with their unique personalities. I think we can all think of a Sissy or a Mary Abbott or a Leona in our lives. Thea’s character told the story and at times you wished you could ask or get the perspective from others. We watch Thea grow up and make choices that are continually frustrating and made you want to strangle her. I found it interesting that even in 1930s America, the choices she made couldn’t be controlled by her parents and there was no television, texting or social media to blame.
I guess I was mostly disappointed in this book because it wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. I was surprised by the graphic details and frankly, I didn’t care much for Thea. I was continually angry with Thea’s selfish behaviors and didn’t like where the story was going.
I was left with disappointment after finishing this novel.