Wednesday 26 June 2013


Book review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

My edition: Paperback, published on 6 June 2013 by Tinder Press, 389 pages.

Description: Thea Atwell is fifteen years old in 1930, when, following a scandal for which she has been held responsible, she is 'exiled' from her wealthy and isolated Florida family to a debutante boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

As Thea grapples with the truth about her role in the tragic events of 1929, she finds herself enmeshed in the world of the Yonahlossee Riding Camp, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty and equestrienne prowess; where young women are indoctrinated in the importance of 'female education' yet expected to be married by twenty-one; a world so rarified as to be rendered immune (at least on the surface) to the Depression looming at the periphery, all overseen by a young headmaster who has paid a high price for abandoning his own privileged roots...


Fifteen-year-old Thea Atwell is send to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp by her parents as a punishment for something she's done that has disgraced her family, though it's not immediately revealed to the reader what exactly this is. As it is a riding camp the novel is heavily focussed on equestrianism which is a fascinating topic to read about as an outsider. While Thea often treats the horses in her care with a sense of authority, almost power hungry at times, it's clear from the author's descriptions of the sport that not only she is an expect on the subject matter but she also feels a deep admiration for the animal.

Unfortunately despite the promising blurb on the back cover I felt disappointed with the execution of the story. Thea is an unlikeable protagonist; a spoiled little rich girl who really only considers her own needs. Her selfish actions are what land her at the Yonahlossee Riding Camp but she doesn't seem to learn greatly, or anything at all, from this punishment as she simply continues to focus on what she wants and in the process repeats her previous mistake.

There seems little reasoning behind her actions, other than perhaps boredom or stupidity, and because of that I simply did not care what would happen to her next or even what terrible ordeal had forced her to the camp in the first place. Having said that, it was obvious from early on what she had done so when the big reveal finally came it felt anticlimactic and too late.

Despite the novel's title the Yonahlossee Riding Camp is more a boarding school than a summer camp. In fact, the relationships between the girls sometimes reminded me of a classic Enid Blyton novel but instead aimed at an adult audience. Another misconception is that in spite of the frequent mention of The Great Depression it's not something that has many consequences for Thea herself and the story could've easily been set a few decades earlier or later. It's certainly an interesting setting but because of the camp's remote location this dark period in economic history doesn't have much of an impact on Thea, or the story as a whole.

The one thing that does stand out in a positive way is the truly exceptional writing. Author Anton DiSclafani certainly has a way with words and her atmospheric writing paints a beautiful and almost poetic picture to the reader. But the novel's only saving grace is also yet another hindrance as it makes the already slow going storyline drag even further.

Many thanks to Real Readers for providing me with a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Would you like to know more about author Anton DiSclafani? You can find her online at:


Twitter: @antondisclafani


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