June 16, 2014 by Reader's Connection
Back at the beginning of this Year of the Horse, I raved about Jane Smiley’s novel Horse Heaven. The horse-love that fueled that book is alive and kicking (but mostly cantering and trotting) in her novels featuring Abby Lovitt, a teenager growing up on a California horse ranch.
The library has shelved these books in the children’s area, and the narrator is a teen, but I’m older than dirt and I can’t stop reading them. I’ve read The Georges and the Jewels and A Good Horse, and I’m halfway through True Blue. (There are two more in the series: Pie in the Sky and Gee Whiz.)
Abby’s mom and dad subscribe to a brand of Protestantism that stands in the way of their having a TV in the house; but most of Abby’s friends watch The Dick Van Dyke Show, which means these novels are set in the early-to-mid 1960’s, at which time author Smiley would have been Abby’s age. Smiley grew up in Missouri, though, not in California, and I don’t know to what extent the books are autobiographical.
The horses on the ranch, and Abby’s mom and dad and estranged brother, may be the focus of her life; but she also has to attend a school, which is its own kind of ranch.
At a friend’s house, girls read through Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and one girl, according to Abby, makes some portentous Roman occurrences “sound like a Frankenstein movie.” The play gets Abby thinking about how different people can do completely different things, each thinking he’s doing the right thing.
In another class, students are paired up to build models of California mission churches–Catholic churches, of course. Abby’s mom and dad are unhappy about the assignment.
And when boys are cruel to each other, Abby ponders the religious implications.
You shouldn’t try the series if you don’t want to read about horses, but these rich, engaging novels are full of human life.