Mending Horses

320p. ebook available. Holiday House. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780823429486. LC 2013019208.
Gr 5–8—Barker's stand-alone sequel to A Difficult Boy(Holiday House, 2008) opens with a terrifying exhibition of injustice resulting from a once-virulent prejudice many readers may find unfamiliar. Ireland-born teen Daniel Linnehan, newly released from a spurious indentureship in 1839 New England, stops at an unfamiliar blacksmith with his beloved horse, Ivy. The self-satisfied blacksmith and his gawky apprentice—Barker's deft sketches even endow most peripheral characters with individuality—conclude from Daniel's foreign speech and apprehensive manner that he stole the fine creature. The man gathers a mob, bellowing for the boy's head on a charge of murder (The author adds flashes of humor in unspooling the imagined crime's escalation). Barker's propulsive language immerses readers into Daniel's distress as the horde violently kidnaps him before his rescue by an independent-minded peddlar with a fiesty young companion named Billy, another troubled soul with Irish origins. Though both youths have suffered as a result of the 19th-century biases that are meticulously depicted here, Billy's brash combativeness conflicts with Daniel's guarded and anxious competence. The two join a traveling show run by a shrewd entertainer keen on Billy's angelic voice and Daniel's instinctive equine skills. Barker fashions a well-researched roster of circus eccentrics to serve as a colorful backdrop to Daniel's slow flowering as a horse trainer and Billy's pugnacious evolution towards contentment; a sole black character functions mostly to deliver a lesson on meeting prejudice with stoicism and pride. The sideshow troupers, tragic childhoods, and near-fatal altercations—plus some gender disguise—could combine for a noisy novel, but Barker crafts a story of grace and strength.—Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY
In 1839 Connecticut, teen Daniel Linnehan (A Difficult Boy) joins peddler Mr. Stocking and his ward Billy to re-train and care for neglected and abused traveling-circus ponies. Daniel's annoyance with Billy--a girl in disguise--gradually lessens, but when Billy's abusive father returns, they're all in danger. Elements of exaggerated melodrama strain credulity, but apt horse-training sequences will entrance horse lovers.

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