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True Blue

Review

True Blue

Thirteen-year-old Abby Lovitt’s world is centered on her family’s California horse ranch. Her parents are very strict, but she knows they love her very much. The family earns a living by buying horses, sprucing them up with good care and intensive training, and selling them. Their newest investment didn’t cost very much; in fact, Abby buys True Blue with the change in her pocket. The dappled gray gelding is a border at a nearby horse facility, and his owner dies in a car accident. With no one claiming him, Abby’s family takes over his care and training.

"Immersing oneself in [Smiley's] books is like galloping into a sweet equine dream."

Right away, Abby feels there’s something different about True Blue. First of all, he comes with a lot of baggage: two trunks full of fancy horse equipment and a pair of expensive riding boots. All of these reminders of the dead previous owner make Abby a bit uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that Blue is a bit edgy himself; he’s nervous about his new surroundings and spooks easily. Sometimes Abby catches Blue staring out at nothing, or at least nothing Abby can see. Still, the first few training sessions with Blue go relatively well, despite the unease of both Blue and Abby.

Then Abby breaks her arm in a fall off of another horse. She’s embarrassed, and the worst part is that she can’t ride for six weeks. As she learns to perform everyday activities with one hand, she also tackles a new task: giving riding lessons. Teaching others what comes naturally to oneself can be a challenge, and Abby works through these obstacles with her new students. But there’s another conundrum in her life that isn’t so easy to figure out --- the ghost of Blue’s previous owner seems to be haunting them.

Any horse lover will be intrigued by the training techniques and horse care in this novel. Jane Smiley writes with a very personable style; a reader feels an immediate and lasting connection to Abby, almost like being inside her head. There is a new element in this one --- a step into the other side of life, with a mysterious ghost visiting the family ranch --- that opens up a whole new set of questions for Abby and if she actually believes in ghosts. Her father says absolutely not; Mr. Lovitt has very strict standards for religion and life, and he expects everyone to adhere to the same rules. But Abby is beginning to see that people look at life differently, and that’s okay. Another quirky part of the story is that it takes place in the 1960s. Parts of life were very different back then, such as the value of a dollar.

Smiley does leave a few questions unanswered, but maybe she’s planning on addressing them in another sequel (we can only hope!). Immersing oneself in her books is like galloping into a sweet equine dream.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on September 27, 2011

True Blue
by Jane Smiley

  • Publication Date: August 7, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 11+
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling
  • ISBN-10: 0375862323
  • ISBN-13: 9780375862328