Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Georges and the Jewels

I don't know how I missed this Jane Smiley horse series, but once I read True Blue, I knew that I would have to buy all of the books.

Smiley, Jane. The Georges and the Jewels. (#1)(2009)
Abby loves working on her family's horse farm in a small California town in the 1960s. She struggles with her father's insistence that she not become attached to the horses because the only way the family can survive is to train them and sell them. This explains the weird title-- all the male horses are called "George" and the females "Jewel". Abby's father is also extremely religious, to the extent that he has driven off Abby's older brother and is often at odds with what Abby is experiencing out in the wider world. Middle school is tough-- Abby must work very hard on the farm, and often goes to school smelling a bit of horses, so the snobs give her a hard time, and she has the typical middle school problems with her friends. When one of the horses she is working with is deemed untrainable by her father, Abby is afraid that the horse will be put down, so she overcomes her fear of him to make him into a horse her father can sell.
Strengths: LOTS of horse riding and ranch life details. THe horses mentioned all have distinct personality, which appeals to girls who love horses.
Weaknesses: Not much happens, and the descriptions of religion and religious life are a bit too strong and not really interesting.

Smiley, Jane. A Good Horse.(2010)
Abby is used to losing horses to new homes, but this time she may lose two. Black George is showing so well that he is sure to sell if Abby can continue to make him look good in the ring. Jack, a horse she rescued, is the foal of a stolen mare, and may be taken away from her as well. Abby continues to struggle with fitting in with her friends at school, although she enjoys being part of a play reading group, even though her mother is a bit disapproving of reading Shakespeare. When it looks like the man who owned the stolen mare is definitely going to take Jack back, Abby has to rely on her faith to get her through.
Strengths: Again, horse details can't be beat. Lots of information about equipment, training, showing, and qualities of horses.
Weaknesses: While these books are great for girls who are horse fanatics, I found them tough going as just stories. Abby's family was so strictly religious, and the events that do occur are very mundane.

While we're on the topic of animals, and have religious  characters in the books above,  I have to mention Rosoff's There is No Dog, mainly because it's gotten a lot of blog love, and people might buy it without reading it. If you are purchasing for a middle school library, I would read this before adding it to your collection. While I am all for being edgy and giving the Establishment philosophical wedgies, I don't think that young adult literature, and certainly not middle grade, is the proper forum. The reviews I have read think this is brilliant because it reimagines God as a teenage boy who is interested in a girl, and the problems that arise because of this. Okay, kind of clever. Still, I am the least religious person imaginable, and even I was vaguely offended by this: "God is dreaming of soapy sex with his fantasy girlfriend while the rest of the world drowns in the bathwater. His bathwater." (page 5). Use your own judgement.


KB said...

I hesitated over Rosoff's book too and decided not to get it. Only because it seemed more leading than letting kids decide. We have the Philip Pullman series which received lots of backlash a few years ago. That being said, if it wins the Printz, I will buy a copy.

Ms. Yingling said...

I refuse to buy award winning books just because they win an award. Say "NO!" to The Man, KB! If a book isn't right, it isn't right! (It looks like you have things that are a little edgier at your library, so maybe it would do well. I have even WEEDED award winners that didn't circulate!)

gail said...

I've just started reading There is No Dog. I'm finding the book witty and edgy and all, but I keep getting the feeling I've read something similar somewhere. Maybe from Neil Gaiman or Christopher Moore? Or even some of the Disc World books?

The adjusting to the idea of God as some kind of alien being who was assigned Earth would go faster for me, if I didn't keep thinking that I've read this before.

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