Okay, let’s talk about girls, equestrianism, and the onset of the depression? Or let’s just focus on the first two with hints of the last one. Yea, that sounds like a good idea.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani tells the story of a young lady named Thea who is being deposited at a riding camp for young women after shaming her family. Set in the 1930s, the book details Thea’s experiences at the camp while she unspools the series of events that brought her here. During all of this, the Great Depression is just beginning, and the camp is starting to feel the strain.
The first-person narrative deftly weaves the past and present together, while exploring Thea’s coming of age. In the backdrop of this novel is the oncoming financial crisis of The Great Depression.
Let me start by saying, I think this book may have set a record for the number of times the phrase “very badly” is used in a story. Thea uses the phrase “very badly” whenever she refers to her desires, and while I forgave it at first, by the end of the novel I almost wanted to start listening again just so I could tick off how many times this phrase is used.
Is this a personal annoyance? Yes. But it’s also what I think I am going to remember about the book every time I hear the phrase, so it’s worth mentioning. If anyone wants to do the math on how many times “very badly” is used, please let me know.
I wanted to love this book. I wanted to love it very badly. I love historical fiction, but between the narrator’s voice, a slow start, and a backstory that leaked out like blood from a stone I came away a little lukewarm.
When I look back at the novel as a whole, it’s a great historical fiction coming-of-age story about a Floridian girl during the onset of the Great Depression in 1930. Saying that, it is less of a novel about the Great Depression and more a novel about a woman’s place in society during the time. It does discuss the changing financial situation of certain families and different markets, but that’s tangential to the experience of these girls at a riding camp/school. This idea is interesting and at the same time a little disquieting.
While I liked the overall idea of the book, I found the main character to be very bland and closed off. That characterization contributed to the one thing that I really didn’t like about this book: its slow start. For the first quarter of the book, I struggled trying, to keep all of the girls in Augusta House straight. There was really no way to tell who was going to be important later, and keeping all the threads was complicated.
The novel does have some great writing with atmospheric prose, and that’s why I ultimately kept listening. Once the novel gets past the idea of Thea being in a new place, it turns inward and you start to see Thea examine herself a little more in depth. The problem is that once we start to see Thea come out of her shell, I got the oddest feeling of deja vu like I had read this kind of story several times before.
It’s hard to walk away from this audiobook and not think that this book had an identity crisis. It starts off being about Thea and a group of girls before zeroing in on a young woman’s sexual awakening. While Thea does form friendships, I wanted more from the girls at the camp which offered a mix of friendly, sinister, and maybe even exploitive relationships. Instead, we only got a snapshot of those girls and I walked away feeling as if they were inconsequential to the story.
FINAL RATING: 3 Stars