CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 26. . . .March 13, 2015
The Lost Diary.
Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis Press, 2014.
219 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55039-234-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55039-236-4 (ebook).
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Kris Rothstein.
"After this fence there's a sharp turn and then three in a row. Make sure you line them up coming out of the corner. Mary, pay attention!" snapped Henry Zelinski.
Distracted by a large family squeezing into their ringside seats, Mary had missed Henry's instructions. She yanked her attention back to the task at hand. They were walking the jump course, following the numbered pattern thought the brightly painted obstacles. Around them, other competitors were doing the same. Mary had noticed that, except for two women, both much older than she was, all the other riders were stern-faced men. They marched around the course without hesitation, obviously certain of their strategy and ability to remember the layout of the jumps.
"Hop, hop, hop, then turn this way and up and over the triple bar."
Mary stumbled after Mr. Zee in her stiff boots. She skidded to a halt in front of the triple bar. "But it's huge!"
Mr. Zee shrugged. "It's no problem for your horse. Come on!" Quickly he led her through the rest of the jumps. "That's it. Good course, eh?" He bounced on the toes of his boots, eager to get onto his horse.
Mary nodded weakly. The stands hummed with noise and activity, like a giant buzzing beehive.
In present-day Armstrong B.C., Faye is recovering from a fall she experienced at a horse-jumping competition. Her shoulder is healing, but she's haunted by memories of the traumatic event. Secretly, she's wondering if she'll ever compete again. At a tack sale at the Equi-Fair, she is sorting a box of books for sale when she finds a diary, the writings of Mary Inglis and her special horse, Colleen. Faye spends the rest of the day reading Mary's story and reflecting on the various challenges the two girls share and how their life stories differ.
In a clever structural touch, we begin our foray into the past through Mary's diary entries and are then transported in a narrative set in her time. Mary's story takes place on a nearby ranch where her father is the head wrangler. What she loves more than anything is riding her horse, Colleen, and the two fly through the air, sharing an unbreakable bond. When a new ranch manager arrives, 14-year-old Mary is introduced to the world of competitive jumping and dressage. Henry Zelinski and his wife, Dorothy, come from the highest levels of equestrian competition and spot Colleen as a valuable horse which Henry would like to ride. Mary refuses to part with her, though, and eventually accepts the couple's help to train her for a competition at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver. Mary wins her event and receives more attention than she wants as she and her father have been hiding a secret about Colleen for her whole life. By the end of the story, Mary has overcome most of the obstacles and is on her way to a successful career, if she wants it. Or, so it seems.
The Lost Diary includes characters from previous books by White, but it was not a detriment to read this novel as a stand-alone. However, it is possible that the story would have been enriched by some context from other books in the series. Faye's framing story is fairly irrelevant, and I wish that she was worked into the tale more, allowed to think and act and develop. As it is, she is passive and blank as a character, although readers who have encountered her before might be less bothered by this. Mary, however, bursts with life. So much so, that when the diary ends with a great triumph, it is exhilarating. However, that Mary suddenly contracted polio and her life completely changed was a real letdown. It might be realistic and an admirable twist in storytelling, but I don't think it was what was called for in this particular tale. This development comes out of nowhere, and it was a bit of a cop-out that disease felled spirited Mary rather than the hurdles she faced as a young female athlete in the 1950s. But I did like that adult Mary appears at the end of the story to relay what happened after the diary ended.
I wish the book had something to say beyond the personal. Many interesting issues emerge in the material, and any of these could have been more developed. There is a strong topic of class difference between Mary's family and the ranch owners, managers and other equestrians. Mary has become a top rider on her own terms, without instruction, but it takes the new privileged couple to turn her into a champion. They have the money and leisure time to ride for fun and to own the animals that will win. In fact, Mary only has Colleen because she was a thoroughbred which the ranch owner has forgotten about. What does this say about the chances to ride for the working class? I would have loved White to engage with this subject matter. I also wish she had pushed issues of gender and what was possible for Mary in her time and place. There is a great scene when Mary is needed to help more on the ranch to pay for travel to Toronto and she reveals that she's been driving a tractor since she was 12. All characters seems to generally agree that rules keeping girls from competing are "hogwash" which allows the forces which confine women to be large and structural rather than personal and specific.
Overall, the book enjoys a nice pace and a compelling heroine in Mary. She is the reason to read this book, a girl full of life and not used to backing down. She has led a sheltered life, but she is not overwhelmed by her travels to the big cities. Adult Mary is a curmudgeon, which didn't quite ring true even though she had been through a lot. The extremely convincing historical setting is a nice addition to the genre, and it is full of details of daily life which bring the routines of the ranch to life. While The Lost Diary is not spectacular or particularly original, it will fit the bill for girls who enjoy horse books.
Kris Rothstein is a children’s book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.
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