The Georges and the Jewels
This book was so perfectly right for me, that I originally felt I couldn’t judge it objectively. So, first I gave it to my daughter who is just starting to ride. And, then I gave it to my mother who was never bitten by the horse bug. We all absolutely loved it. It is a wonderful book that while just right for a nine year old, has the ability to appeal to children and adults alike. I would recommend it to people of any age and with varying degrees of interest in horses. It is that good.
It is the story of a 7th grade girl named Abby growing up in 1960’s California horse country. She helps her father train horses so that he can claim, “Kid’s Horse for Sale.” There are several great story lines that come together in this fast read to make us truly feel for Abby. A central theme is Abby’s evolving relationship with a particularly difficult horse, that continues to throw her off. Through the course of the book we see various adults interact with the horse with mixed success, and eventually are able to witness a coming around thanks to a horse whisperer. The horse training details are simultaneously specific, graphic and enlightening. Most of all, it is particularly nice to witness it through the frank eyes of a young girl.
At the same time, Abby is growing up in a born-again Christian household where she is faced with the challenges of having her family’s beliefs conflict with the things she is learning at school as well as the estrangement of her brother. This element of the book is important to the development of Abby’s character, but is not overly described and is consistently presented without judgment. I wondered if Violet would ask questions about this religious component, but she didn’t. She took it at face value, and was much more interested in the social dynamic in Abby’s school. As Jane Smiley so adeptly puts it, “The best thing that can happen to you in seventh grade, really, is that you float from one classroom to another like a ghost or spirit, undetected by the humans.” Ms. Smiley is a master of the human dynamic, and perfectly brings her skills to bear in helping us experience a little bit of that dreaded 7th grade one more time. Fortunately, it is not too painful to re-live, while there is at least one character in there that each of us can relate to. There is nothing remotely inappropriate in this book for children. Most of all it has a fairly just ending, which I really do like in books – especially children’s books.
There are many accomplished children’s authors out there. And, then there are great adult authors such as Ursula Lequin (Catwings) and Alexander McCall Smith (Max & Maddy, Akimbo) who do us a kindness by writing books for children. We can now add Jane Smiley to the list of fantastic authors that we can be grateful to for writing exceptional literature for our kids. Thank you, Jane. I also want to add a special shout out to the illustrator, Elaine Clayton. She graces the beginning of each chapter with illustrations of various horse accessories, and they are delightful. While I was sad to finish this book, it is nice to be able to go back and look at the illustrations from time to time.
– Jessica Wheeler