Fourteen-year-old Sidney Criser wants two things: to be a Catch Rider—someone who can ride any horse, anytime, and known for being so very, very good that rich people will hire her to ride their horses in shows—and to get out of her home town:
We all know things about each other in Covington. And people who make fun of me wish they hadn't.
All these kids thought they were cool, but I knew they'd never amount to a damn thing. They'd work in the paper mill until the day they died. I know that sounds mean and angry, but I'm not either one. We have a life to live that could stop any minute, and I guess I can't believe this is how some people want to spend it. It makes me sad as hell. I want to ask them, don't they want to know what's out there? I sure do.
Her father died about four years ago, and about three and a half years ago, her mother's boyfriend Donald moved in. Everyone in town—except Sid's horse trader Uncle Wayne—thinks he's charming and fabulous and like, this GREAT CATCH. But Sid's known better from day one, and his behavior has been getting worse and worse lately. Like, lately he's been more likely to grab than yell...
Partly to avoid the house more, and partly to save up some money in the hopes of convincing her mother to kick Donald to the curb, she takes a job mucking out stalls and doing general horse-related tasks at a fancypants barn for show horses. It's near torture for her to be around all of these beautiful horses and not be allowed to ride them, and dealing with the entitled, snooty girls who DO get to ride them is just as bad, especially considering how they don't appreciate anything they've got—the horses OR their cushy lifestyle—but before long, she's presented with AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHINE.
First things first: NO, THIS IS NOT A CRYING BOOK. I know, right? There's a horse on the cover and everything! But it isn't, not at all.
Sid is hardscrabble and feisty, and her dry delivery and her distinctive narration made me think of a younger version of Dairy Queen's D.J. Schwenk. Like D.J., she's also got working class roots, a crazy-strong work ethic, a you-say-stubborn-I-say-persistent nature and she lives in a small town where everyone knows everyone. Sid and the setting reminded me of Dairy Queen, but her drive and her knowledge reminded me of the heroines in Joan Bauer's earlier books: in those, they always have a passion for a particular topic, and Sid's passion is just as inspiring and contagious and impressive as any of theirs.
Her relationship with her uncle is lovely—he's a real person with real problems, and it's heartbreaking when he [SPOILER] realizes that he's been unaware of how bad things have gotten at home for Sid and his sister [END SPOILER]—and while her mother's struggle isn't front-and-center, she also comes off as a real person who's dealing with real loss. Donald is pure jerk, but every so often, we do encounter them in real life, and it's also worth keeping in mind that he's seen through Sid's eyes.
The only aspect of the book that didn't really work for me was the romance, which felt extraneous and tacked-on. Then again, it helped to further highlight the class divide between the haves and the have-nots, and to be fair, I've been craving books WITHOUT romance lately, so it's possible that some of that reaction is My Stuff.
Nutshell: DON'T LET THE HORSE SCARE YOU AWAY, AND READ IT IF YOU'RE A FAN OF D.J. AND JOAN BAUER.
Book source: Finished copy from the publisher.