Thea Atwell has done something terrible. What teenaged Thea has done exactly is not clear, at least not right away. However, it is certain that Thea’s shameful actions have caused a rift in the Atwell family, so much so that she is shipped hastily from her insulated home near Emathla, Florida to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls in Blowing Rock, North Carolina in the middle of the summer.
The sudden separation is a shock for Thea. Before her relocation, she lived in virtual isolation. Her family resided outside of town and Thea had few regular interactions with other people aside from her mother, father, twin brother, Sam, and a handful of immediate relatives. She feels acute pain and longing in her separation from Sam, her primary companion, in particular. Her absence severs their deep bond as twins. Upon and following her removal from her home, she questions the endurance of her family and their connection to each other.
The novel is set in 1930, during the difficult years of the Great Depression. Thanks to the Atwell citrus farm though, Thea’s family has remained largely unscathed by financial burdens. They are not necessarily wealthy, but they are comfortable for sure. If not for her indiscretions, Thea might have continued without much notice of the Depression. Not until Thea is removed from her home does she begin to notice traces of financial insecurity and become more acutely aware of class differences surrounding her.
Not surprisingly, the transition to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp, or YRC, is abrupt and disorienting for Thea. Everything at YRC is different from Florida: the land is mountainous rather than flat, the camp is populated by girls and Thea is unaccustomed to female friendship. The lifestyle and attitudes at the camp are quite alien to Thea as well. Although Thea is from the South geographically speaking, she does not feel Southern culturally, and she displays emotions of inferiority in her new locale.
The fact that gossip clings to Thea, due to her mid-season enrollment, does not help her acclimation either. Nevertheless, she is befriended by a popular girl named Sissy who helps her through the social minefields of the camp. Despite Thea’s alliances, she is still snubbed by girls from more fashionable areas like Memphis and Atlanta and she develops a rivalry with Leona Keller, the top rider at the camp. Apart from Sissy, horses help Thea adjust to her surroundings. She is an expert rider. Her fearlessness for riding and her competitive nature benefit her in the ring. Novelist Anton DiSclafani’s equestrian background is apparent in her writing.
DiSclafani does not reveal the specifics of Thea’s inappropriate behavior up front. Instead she chooses to gradually reveal the details of Thea’s scandal alongside her arrival at YRC so that the two stories are intertwined with heavier suspense. The novel’s setting almost appears tangible with its atmospheric description. Indeed, the world of YRC is so lucid and authentic that it could believably exist off the page. Much like Thea’s sheltered life in Florida, YRC seems to be shielded at large from the world suffering at the hands of the Depression. But DiSclafani hints that the bubble that YRC and its occupants exist within might not be as protected as it appears. Currents of change are manifested throughout the story in both possessions and customs. Moreover, Thea is in for another surprise when she discovers that YRC is more than just a riding camp…
Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.