The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: A NovelI was fifteen years old when my parents sent me away to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. The camp was located in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, concealed in the Blue Ridge Mountains. You could drive by the entrance and never see it, not unless you were looking, and carefully; my father missed it four times before I finally signaled that we had arrived. 

It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.” 

This book has been called lush, sexy, and evocative, and I would agree with all three. I wasn’t expecting to like it that much, but the writing was really wonderful and absorbing. I also loved the cover, although it is a bit odd that there are no horses on it, considering that the book is named after a riding camp. It’s a great work of historical fiction. Obviously, the book is set while the Great Depression is raging on, but the riding camp is kind of an idyllic place untouched by all of that. It’s still very old school, even though the camp has changed since its inception in 1876 – or was it 1902? 

What was frustrating to me was that I really wanted to find out why Thea was at the camp, what she had done that was so terrible to merit being exiled from her home. Her father drops her off at the camp, and he certainly seems somewhat reluctant to leave her there. What she had done nagged at me the whole way through. I started catching hints of it as the book progressed. I won’t give anything away, but the reason is pretty predictable, and actually pretty stereotypical. 

I loved how the relationship between Thea and her brother Sam was characterized. The reader can see as they read how much Thea loves her brother and looks up to him. While at the camp, she’s constantly thinking about what he would be doing, and she remembers little experiences with him and also with her cousin, who’s rather important to her estrangement. It was really sweet, how fond she was of her brother. 

The scene of the camp dance was, I think, brilliantly done. The reader really gets to know Thea better, and the writing is also marvelous. It’s kind of a depressing scene, but I think it was well portrayed; Thea doesn’t want to be “gathered”, and she half does and half doesn’t want to follow the rules. She’s also impressed, once again, by Mr. Holmes’s kindness and understanding. He was a great character. 

I had a horse phase, and I still love horses, so I was glad that this book had horses in it. But the horses really aren’t the central part of the story at all; they’re not that important. Although Thea’s relationship with her horses is interesting, and horses are certainly very important to her life. She rode when she was still at home, and of course she rides at the camp. 

The characters were very well portrayed. I really enjoyed the character of Mr. Holmes, the camp director. He was very kind and understanding. Thea was also interesting, although I didn’t exactly like her. She was kind of cruel towards horses and towards people. But characters don’t have to be likable.

Overall, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls was a really good work of historical fiction. It was very thoughtful, and the writing was beautiful. Really beautiful, and atmospheric. I started reading the book, and I just kept reading. It wasn’t suspenseful, but it was absorbing, and definitely evocative. Thanks to Riverhead Hardcover for sending me an ARC. The book comes out tomorrow.

Read The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls:

  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like horses

388 pages.

Rating: ****

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