23 June 2015

There are girls, there are girls, there are girls, there are girls

So many books try to pull off the trick of obliquely mentioning a Life Event in one of its characters' lives and then gradually unspooling it like a carpenter's tape measure. This one is worth it.

The newest resident of the titular camp is Thea Atwell, a doctor's daughter from rural Florida whose parents have sent her away for a transgression. Deep in the mountains of North Carolina, Yonahlossee is a horseback riding retreat for rich girls whose families don't know what to do with them before they get married -- though with the Great Depression looming, its target market is dwindling by the week. Thea's parents can pay, but her guilt about her upbringing is secondary to her struggles fitting in: Having spent almost her whole life on the family farm, she feels all at sea when it comes to navigating friendships with the other girls at camp. Her isolation is compounded at the end of the summer, when she finds out by letter that her parents intend her to attend Yonahlossee year-round, separating her completely from her twin brother for the first time in her life.

The first hundred pages of this book were very hard to get into as Thea adjusts to camp, but once the major personalities were set into play I couldn't put this book down. I roared through the last 200 pages half-afraid of what was happening to Thea (no spoilers) and worrying about how it was all going to play out. The intimacy of teenage girls in this book is at once specific to the time and place -- useless daughters of the rich, intended for good marriages and jeopardized by idleness -- and in a lot of ways universal to how girls interact in these types of closed systems. I'm currently working on something that references similar themes and picked this up without realizing, but DiSclafani's take on it is particularly interesting in how she hooks in the transgression to the airless world of Yonahlossee.  

Read this if you like: THE SECRET HISTORY, Cornelia Read's MADELINE DARE novels, anything about boarding schools.

Trivia: I didn't find this out till after I finished the book, but it was apparently the source of a bidding war before it was published. I can see that happening for sure. I'll be looking for her next one.

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