You Don’t Have to Die in the End
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You Don’t Have to Die in the End
Noah was soft in the head to send a green wrangler into a pen full of half-wild horses. He was either trying to build my confidence or setting me up to fail. When I was a kid my brothers employed that particular technique more than a time or two, especially when they thought I was getting too big for my britches.
In my head, I heard Jackson: Don’t be a wuss. Jackson and Noah were nothing alike but the sentiment was the same. Just gotta push through.
I climbed through the bars of the gate, felt the horse watching me. “Hey, there.” I kept my voice level, soft. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to eat you.”
A half dozen beasts stood their ground as I came close. Eight or ten others – the smaller, younger horses, including the red one – moved away.
Noah probably expected me to halter an older horse. Instead, I went after Red. I was green when it came to horse care and training, but I’d been around them enough to know that as long as I moved slow, Red would too. I was prepared to follow him around this pen until he wore out or decided I wasn’t a threat.
Forty-five minutes later, I haltered a fat, grey horse, and led him out of the pen.
Noah might have remarked on my failed effort. He did not.
After I finished with the grey’s feet, I moved on to a next horse, then another. Each time, Noah checked my work and turned the horse out into the clearing where it rejoined the larger herd. All except Packman and a muscled, blue roan with a black face, which Noah tied to the fence.
Finally, there were only the young ones left in the pens, including Red.
“What about them?”
“Later. Let’s go for a ride.”
As we saddled our horses, I noticed that Noah used rope bridles with no bits. “Pressure goes on the nose rather than the mouth,” he explained. “Go easy, and these boys will want to keep it that way.”
“That’s what I thought when I tried to catch the red horse.”
“You missed something.”
“Let me guess,” I drawled. “Trust. I would have got it, just needed more time.”
“More than that, Eugenia. Trust is important, but so is respect. It goes both ways.”
I kept my eye roll on the inside.
Eugenia – Genie – is a young offender. She drinks regularly, dropped out of school just before finishing grade 11, and battered another young woman to the point of hospitalization. When Genie comes before the judge, she is given a choice: jail time or participation in an Intensive Support and Supervision Program. This program takes her to a ranch in the Rocky Mountains where Genie and other young offenders are expected both to work hard physically as well as work hard on their emotions and attitudes. The supervision and counselling will hopefully prepare these young adults to not only return to their families and society, but to also contribute in some sort of meaningful way and put their past behind them.
Genie is tough with an obvious chip on her shoulder. Her mouth and her bad attitude are the first things people notice about her, and that suits her just fine. She apparently neither wants nor needs real friends and the understanding they might provide. Much of her personality stems from a tragic past. Genie’s father committed suicide, and her mother left the family. Darcy, an older brother, became Genie’s guardian, and her other brother, Jackson, took advantage of the family chaos to leave home and begin his own downhill spiral.
The characters at the ranch are believable and interesting as a background to Genie’s coming-of-age and maturing throughout the book. The adults are there to supervise but do so by example and understanding rather than strictly enforcing rules and regulations. At the start, Genie has run-ins with some of them, but she gradually comes to realize that there are adults who truly are interested in her and have her well-being at heart. The other teens are at the ranch for a variety of misdemeanors and crimes, and Genie’s interactions with them help readers understand her little by little. She has a great deal to learn about faith and trust in both herself and in others. Gradually, Genie’s rock-bottom self-esteem improves to the point where she gains understanding of herself, of her family and of people around her.
Anita Daher deals with difficult themes in the novel including mental illness and suicide, alcohol abuse, anger management, gender issues and how to cope with what seems to be overwhelming grief. These are illustrated both in Genie’s own personality and her interactions with others. She does not handle every situation perfectly, and, even at the end of the novel, readers will sense she still has a lot to learn. In other words, she is human.
The opening scenes take place in a small ranching town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and this setting gives readers a sense of young people with too much time on their hands and too little to do. Drinking and fighting seem to be the usual ways of spending time. The change of scene to the ranch in the mountains immediately gives both the novel’s characters and the readers a sense of well-being and calm. Surrounded by nature and given physical tasks to accomplish, the young offenders react positively. It is by no means a Garden of Eden, and there are obstacles to overcome, but the isolated ranch provides the ideal place for rehabilitation of body, mind and spirit.
Eugenia’s last name – Grimm – seems to describe her and her situation only too well at the outset of the novel. Thanks to her own introspection and hard work, as well as the support and trust of the people around her, she becomes a very different young woman at the end of the book. There are moments of doom and gloom, and many serious themes are woven into the story, but there is also the wonderful appreciation of what can be achieved if only people are given the time, encouragement and incentive to work out their problems and improve their lives.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and classroom teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.