________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 20. . . .January 28th, 2010.


The Trouble With Being a Horse.

Emily Edwards.
Halifax, NS: Single Stride Publishing, 2010.
168 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-0-9866715-0-0.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Kay Weisman.

** / 4




Olivia shook her head violently to help clear it, but all that happened was that her hair fell in her face. "Funny," she thought, "I don't remember having such long hair." She tried to brush it out of her face with her hand, but discovered she couldn't lift her arm more than a few inches off the ground. Shock was an understatement for how Olivia felt when she looked down at herself to see not arms, but legs! With hooves! She was so surprised, she jumped straight up from where she had been lying. She did so very clumsily, which of course may be expected, now having twice as many legs as she used to have. Olivia couldn't understand what was going on.

"Am I dreaming?" she thought. But the pain in her head was all too real and she knew she was wide awake. Now standing on all four legs, Olivia swung her head around to look at her body, slowly coming to the realization that she was . . . a horse.

Feeling underappreciated by her mother and misunderstood by her father, 11-year-old Olivia idly wishes that she could "be with horses forever." Later, during a ride on her horse, Trouble, the mount runs away, throwing her to the ground. Olivia awakens to find she has been transformed into a chestnut mare. Not particularly unhappy at this turn of events, she wanders up a mountain and joins a herd of wild horses. All goes well until a bear attacks Olivia. Realizing she needs medical help, she makes her way back down the mountain to an equestrian centre where she is adopted and cared for by young Jenny. The two share a special bond and win many riding competitions since Olivia, as a former rider, already knows what is expected of her as a horse. Of course, this is all too good to last; financial reverses force Jenny's father to sell Olivia to a wealthy man whose son mistreats her. Olivia runs away, returns to Jenny, saves an entire barn of horses from a fire, and finally returns to the stable where she used to ride. There, Trouble magically returns her to human form.

     Edwards debut novel gallops from one action-packed scene to the next with only brief pauses for currying and grooming. Olivia's transformation has definite Oz-like qualities to it-she is only able to become human again after much pining about home, for example-and her time spent in equine form (reminiscent of Sewell's Black Beauty) doesn't seem to lend itself to much introspection or personal growth. Likewise, given the contemporary parenting climate of Amber alerts, Olivia's parents are remarkably incurious about her missing months. Continuity is also a problem: in the opening scenes, Olivia's father loses his job, yet when she reappears months later, they have sufficient money to purchase a horse for her. Characters are mostly one dimensional and stereotyped: Olivia is insecure throughout; Jenny is devoted and loving; Jenny's father is earnest but poor; and the son of the wealthy man who purchases equine-Olivia is overweight and cruel.

     Hard-core horse enthusiasts will probably enjoy this book despite its flaws; most everyone else may want to take a pass.

Recommended with reservations.

Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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