NOVEL APPROACH: ‘Riding’ rebellion

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First Posted: 6/10/2013

George Eliot once said: “The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.” In Anton DiSclafani’s debut novel, “The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls,” readers meet a character who, in making such a choice, alters her life forever.

The novel opens in the early 1930s, at the onset of the Great Depression. Readers follow teenage protagonist, Thea Atwell, who is raised on a prominent citrus farm in Florida. Thea, a debutante, grows up alongside her twin brother, Sam, and cousin, Georgie, who serve as her only source of solace.

Unfortunately, the often misunderstood Thea is soon removed from her familial home after a grave, yet mysterious, transgression. Before it is too late, she realizes that she has been indefinitely sequestered to Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, a boarding school in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

“I wondered, in that dimly lit cabin that smelled so strongly of wood, what had brought each girl there. Or who had brought them. […] I took my father’s hand, which hung by his side, and hoped the other girls would not think me childish. His grip surprised me, and then I knew it was true, he meant to leave me here.”

As Thea feels her freedom quickly slipping away, she makes the decision to persevere, no matter the cost. The camp, which publicizes its renowned female education and horseback riding, harbors many secrets within. Readers come to understand that Thea, as well as the supporting characters, bear a traumatizing past that brought them there.

While the harsh reality of poverty exists outside the site, the young women remain naive to the world, lulled by the extravagance of what they are taught to see and believe. The camp becomes a device to further anti-feminist ideals, often promoting young girls’ purity and refinement for the sake of male approval. Fortunately, Thea finds refuge in the horses, who serve as strength and escape in a life where her own choices are critically silenced.

As a coming-of-age novel, DiSclafani offers both poignant and gripping sentiments throughout. The work is written in such a way that readers mature with Thea as she faces adversity, growing from a once selfish socialite to a compassionate and determined young woman.

While the work contains often delicate and controversial themes, DiSclafani manages to develop them as a mode of fortitude rather than exploit them purely for shock value. Thea may be a complicated protagonist from beginning to end, but the conclusion of the work demonstrates that growth is about becoming fearless.

‘The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls’ by Anton DiSclafani Rating: W W W W