This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading." I'll be writing about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday.
First, you need to know that despite the name and despite the teenage protagonist, this book is 1, not a coming of age novel and 2, not appropriate for teens. Need to be very clear on this.
I received The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani from Daniel, the owner of Boswell Book Company, a few years ago. It's the first "uncorrected proof for limited distribution" that I've ever gotten my hands on! There weren't any typos that I noticed, but some formatting and random quotation marks sprinkled throughout. It was fun for me to see this brief little part of the publishing process.
Thea Atwell is sent to The Yonahlossee Riding Camp by her parents because of some heart-breaking family drama that she seems to be the root of. She is snoopy and quiet, but one of the most popular girls at camp quickly befriends her. Thea is an exceptional equestrian and develops a terse but peacefully competitive relationship with the best rider at camp, Leona. She in an interesting social position, but even that is a little odd because she is so unsocial. She grew up in a secluded property in Florida with her twin brother as her bestie, and their cousin who frequently visited them, and that was basically the extent of her interactions with people her age. At home she rides her horse, takes care of her horse, takes lessons from her father, and follows her brother around their property looking for interesting or needy animals. Even when they go into town, their mother is pleasant with people but obviously acts superior to the "townsfolk."
While the "now" takes place at the riding camp, we learn about Thea's life in a series of flashbacks and daydreams. However, the formatting of the flashbacks because aren't always clearly separated from the "now." In the "now," we experience Thea's first couple days at camp with her, and -suddenly!- she's been there for several months. So, some timing issues, but we can get past that because Thea is MAKING OUT WITH HER.... Nah I can't tell you. I won't!
Because of the jump in time since her arrival, we miss Thea learn how to be a friend and interact with other girls. While we aren't bogged down with visual descriptions of the buildings, the landscape, what meals are served, the complete layout of the camp, etc. We learn exclusively about Thea and her experiences. The book has all the making of a coming of age novel: loss of innocence, a journey, testing boundaries, rites of passage, but as I said earlier that's definitely not what this book is; Thea is lacking the epiphany. In theory she overcomes her family tragedy, but doesn't gain insight into herself or the people she's involved with or grow from those experiences and introspection. Her drama at school isn't something she feels bad about or wants to evolve from. It's almost something she simply accepts about herself, like I'm 17 and a bad girl and I don't need anyone. I'm not positive that Thea changes at all even though she is THE topic of the book. It's unfortunate, and kind of sad.
There's a school dance and she definitely is interested in a boy, they dance closely and get in trouble. She is filled so deeply with shame that she feels that all eyes are on her and she must leave the party. This is one time she is incredibly self-conscious, but through the rest of the book she lives pretty uncaring to what other people think of her. With her isolated upbringing, this makes sense but doesn't, to me, at the same time. I'm no psychologist. The boy she danced with writes to her, but she does not respond. Somehow during this time Thea decides that she doesn't want boys, she wants men, but the decision is so out of place since she hasn't spent hardly any time in her life with either.
Thea takes solace from her family's rejection, or maybe indicates she needs some serious therapy following her family-drama, in a relationship with her headmaster... Icky, yes. She definitely plans their affair, she is definitely the leader of it, and she definitely does not know what she's doing. I'm not sure she even knows why she is doing it. Her behavior is alarming, but what is more alarming is that there are no adults in her life to call her out or help guide her decision-making. You would think a man who has been headmaster of a girl's boarding school would either 1, be way more experienced in selecting and seducing a student to have an affair with or 2, have a steely resolve not to have an affair with a student. But Mr. Holmes is neither of those things and his motivation is unknown. When he's around Thea he quickly gets inebriated enough to disclose secrets about the camp's funding and sometimes about the other girls, and it's during these times that Thea takes advantage of him. She decides where and when they go places, and skips classes with the other girls without a second thought- from either of them. As readers we learn more about their intimate discussions with each other after his wife returns from a trip and the affair promptly ends, so the significant clues about Mr. Holmes and his situation end up undeveloped.
Finally, I have to expose a book routine I have... When I get a new book, I get a 3x5 notecard and write down the book title, author, and maybe the circumstances under which I received the book. When I begin and finish the book I write down those dates; sometimes I write down the books I read before. Always, though, well, pretty much always, the notecard also gets filled up with quotes from the book that were funny, meant something to me, or were simply beautiful. But through this 388-page book, I have no notable quotes from this book. The book is about Thea, and in my opinion Thea is unremarkable.
She lives pretty uncaring to what other people think of her, and seems to do whatever she wishes. With her isolated upbringing,