Friday, September 11, 2015

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls  Thea Atwell leads what many might called a charmed life, or as her mother says, a lucky life. She and her twin brother Sam live with their parents on a secluded farm in Florida. She spends her days riding horses and investigating the wonders of the natural world with Sam. Educated at home, Thea and Sam rarely spend time with other children.The only other child Thea and Sam see with some regularity is their cousin Georgie.

Their seclusion from the outside world seems nearly absolute. It is 1930 and even what would become known as the Great Depression is starting to make itself felt, Thea and her family barely feel its effects. This is partly because her father is a doctor and, after all, there will always be sick people. Her father's medical practice, however, isn't really where the family gets its money. That comes from the citrus groves on Thea's mother's side. But not even wealth can protect one from all the tragedies of life.

Thea is 15-years-old when she is sent away from home to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. She hopes it is just for the summer but as fall comes around she realizes her banishment will last much longer. Her banishment is the result of a family tragedy in which Thea played a significant part. (Contrary to her family or even Thea herself, I cannot hold Thea solely responsible.) She views the camp/boarding school as a punishment but it becomes a gift as Thea begins to grapple with who she is away from the isolated life of her family.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a coming of age of tale set in 1930s Florida and North Carolina. In other hands this story may have filled with sentimentality and nostalgia. Anton Disclafani does not waste time with that here. Thea's transition from childhood to adulthood is messy and painful. Her actions hurt her and those around her but like often in the teen years, she can't quite seem to stop herself. She manages to be both insightful and naive, calculating and innocent at the same time, kind and cruel at the same time.

I'm still grappling with what to think about Thea and The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. Thea as a character was strong and full of contradictions, which I felt was intriguing and accurate in the sense that people, particularly teenagers, are often full of contradictions. I liked that there was a lack of romanticising of the past. There was something missing, however. I wanted more about Sam in particular, as well as their parents but maybe that's unfair since this is Thea's story. I also wanted to know what kind of woman Thea was going to become. She makes one mistake, and then makes the same mistake again and it isn't quite clear what she has learned in regards to that situation. She does grow in other ways, but not exactly in the way that I would have wanted given the nature of the story and the tragedy that drives the novel.

If I am not mistaken this is Disclafani's first novel. Though it was not perfect it was quite good. I look forward to reading what she writes next.

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