Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: The Horse is Never Wrong

I wrote in my last book review how much I appreciated getting the chance to check an equestrian-themed novel for errors, given the number of horse books in existence which seem to have been written by authors who have never actually met a real live horse, let alone attended a horse show! This time I'm reviewing The Horse is Never Wrong, written by first-time YA author Mary Pagones.

The Horse is Never Wrong centres around Heather, a fifteen year-old high school student who has been diagnosed with Asperger's (a "high functioning" autism spectrum disorder). Heather struggles with fitting in socially until she begins to take riding lessons at a local stable. While Heather might not be the most natural of new riders, she finds comfort in the horses and it develops into a common interest with other teens at the stable who share her new-found passion.

The novel is written in the first person in an almost stream-of-consciousness style. This allows the reader to understand how Heather feels about her normalcy or lack thereof, and it also provides a means to disclose her insecurities and what have been labelled as her symptoms of Asperger's, many of which readers might see in themselves. When something is quietly shared amongst many of us, at what point does it cease to be a medical symptom?

Pagones doesn't ram these questions down our throats, but The Horse is Never Wrong will get the reader thinking about them. This is an excellent read for dispelling fear of differences. Should we vilify others for nonconformity, or because they openly present traits that most keep hidden? While many young adult novels serve as a form of escape from the everyday, The Horse is Never Wrong urges readers to look inside themselves while still maintaining a compelling storyline. Though the category might be young adult, Pagones provides material that can be appreciated by all ages.

Refreshingly, Heather's first steps into the horse world aren't of the magical, teen phenomenon variety so often found in YA horse novels. She struggles to master posting the trot, as many beginner riders do. For once, the goals set are reasonable and realistically attainable! Because the protagonist herself is new to horses, the material is basic enough for the non-horse person to understand, while at the same time providing enough realistic equine interaction to satisfy the horsey set.

The dialogue can feel slightly stilted at times, occasionally lacking some of the contractions that we're used to hearing in casual conversation, but I think that some of this can be forgiven in a first novel. The chapters are very short, which keeps the story moving along. If anything, the book might have felt a little bit too concise! On the horse front, there are some minor errors that will be noticed by experienced competitors, such as local-level jumpers being fond of colourful helmet covers (which are generally favoured by eventers rather than jumpers) or an 'A' circuit hunter/jumper show holding dressage classes at the same time. These inaccuracies are few and far between, however, and none contribute more to the plot than a passing remark.

Overall, The Horse is Never Wrong is a great novel to promote empathy and introduce a different world view to teens, horse-crazy or not. It's also a nice light, albeit thought-provoking, read for adults of any age who remember what it was like to navigate the tumultuous high school years. 

The Horse is Never Wrong, written by Mary Pagones, is available in both Kindle and paperback editions through, where you can also find a preview of the first chapters.

Disclosure: I have received no financial compensation for writing this review aside from a sample or copy of the product to be reviewed. My reviews are always my honest opinion and experience. Readers who use reviewed products do so at their own risk.

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