By: Cecily von Ziegesar
Publisher: Soho Press, Inc.
Publication Date: September 2016
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 4, 2016
Cecily von Zeigesar unites one misguided girl and a failed off-the-track thoroughbred and delivers a story of hope on the heels of devastation in her latest novel: Dark Horses.
Merritt Wenner used to be a fairly even-keeled teenager. She loved visiting her grandmother (Gran-Jo) at every chance and the added bonus was her beloved horse, Noble. Sadly, after both pass on to the ever after, Merritt's new life entails too much alcohol, always with a chaser of pills. Her parents are (somewhat) aware, but elect to accept perhaps it's just a typical teenage phase. Besides, they're busy preparing for their next marathon, triathlon or whatever other 'thon' that involves running. On the morning of her SAT, Merritt struggles to maintain and attempts to shake off her overindulgence of booze and pills from the evening before. She vaguely hears the well-wishes of her parents as she departs for the exam. She arrives late and all she wants to do is leave. She asks for a pass to the restroom and never looks back at the school grounds behind her as she heads for the train station.
Still woozy from the night before and the side-effects from the pills she found (and took) on the train ride, Merritt arrives at her grandmother's house in New Canaan. The thing is, she forgets her grandmother doesn't live there anymore and she can't figure out why that handsome dapple gray horse is in Noble's paddock. The horse trots to the fence and allows Merritt to ease onto his back. She remembers this. She remembers Gran-Jo and Noble and she is crying. Everything is so messed up. Who is that strange man coming toward her from Gran-Jo's house?
When Merritt's parents receive the call about their daughter skipping the SAT and her whereabouts are New Canaan, it's time for some boundaries. They enroll Merritt in Good Fences, a school for troubled adolescents and one exceptionally troubled horse. Enter Red, a failed racehorse and the dark horse of the barn. There was no horseback riding at Good Fences. Rather, there were pairings of lost human souls with a horse in hopes the two could find their way back together. Red had other plans. He had his own paddock because he was crazy. He was muzzled virtually 24/7 because he knew how to unlatch gates. He liked to bite and had no problem scaring the crap out of anyone or anything that got in his way. How is it that he saw something in this new girl Merritt and why would she be the one to open his dark and closed heart?
Cecily von Ziegesar hits her stride (no pun intended) immediately in this heart-warming story between a broken girl and a horse. I have a personal love of stories that capture the beautiful bond between girls and horses and Ziegesar does not disappoint with Dark Horses. Her knowledge of equestrian lingo is spot on, affirming her years in the saddle. Her main character, Merritt, is not your typical teenage girl struggling to 'find' herself. Rather, she is a character who doesn't know where to begin to look and Ziegesar points her in the direction of a very snarky and larger than life character in Red, the failed racehorse. Ziegesar weaves a story of grit as much as love and manages to complement transitions from scene to scene with believable and credible dialogue. In tandem fashion she transitions from chapter-to-chapter between Merritt's voice and Red's voice and accomplishes the segues beautifully. As a mother of two girls who competed in equestrian circles for many years, I was able to connect immediately with the relationship Ziegesar develops between Merritt and Red. This is a wonderful story of perseverance and never giving up - great job in the delivery Ms. von Ziegesar.
Quill says: Dark Horse is a story of victory and redemption as much as it is a tale of love and lessons learned.