________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 24. . . .February 26, 2016


Touch of Gold.

Vivien Gorham
Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2015.
224 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-77108-324-9.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Mary Harelkin Bishop.

** /4


During the month before school ended, Jamie had biked to Tamarack as often as she could. Most of the time she helped Nick with chores: pitching hay, filling water buckets, and mucking stalls.

Paul taught her to lunge Peach in the round pen, with Val’s permission, and the mare grew sleek and fit. Mostly, Peach was calm with Jamie, moving easily from walk to trot to canter and back. But when she did act up or break stride, usually from boredom, Jamie just jiggled the lunge line and called out to her, and eventually she would settle down again…

…Peach pricked up her ears at Jamie as she trotted past, but the mare’s pace and posture didn’t change at all. Opposite letter C, exactly at Letter A, she moved into a slow, bouncy canter. All four legs lifted rhythmically, and her whole body looked round somehow, from her flexed neck to her arched, feather tail. Jamie watched in wonder as Peach began to move diagonally across the ring. All the way from letter F to H, Peach cantered forward and sideways, her nose and tail still pointing at letters C and A at each end of the ring. Naomi was right: dressage was ballet on horseback. And Val looked as if she were a part of Peach, rather than a rider perched on her back. Jamie couldn’t see Val’s hands or legs move at all, even though she had to be doing something to control Peach so perfectly.

Back at letter C, Peach returned to a trot, and then to a walk at letter A.


Jamie, 13, has just moved, with her mother, from Halifax to River Bend, NS, and is in for a lonely time. She has left her best friend and her father behind. She is not happy about the move until she discovers a horse in a pasture just outside of River Bend. The horse seems to be neglected and lonely, too. Jamie names the horse “Peach” and begins to get to know it. Visiting the horse daily, she grooms it, brings it treats, and befriends it. Through Peach, she meets its owner, Sam, an older man who has lost his wife. When Sam decides to sell the horse to a riding stable nearby, Jamie goes along with him. There she meets Nick, Naomi and other horse-riding enthusiasts her own age. Jamie decides to volunteer at the riding stable to be close to Peach. She also hopes that, in exchange for mucking out stalls, watering and feeding horses and generally helping out, she will get riding lessons. She knows her mother can’t afford the expense and hopes to offset the cost by working at the stable. This is where Jamie is happiest, and where she spends the majority of her time.

     For horse enthusiasts, Touch of Gold might be an interesting read. It is very descriptive in many aspects of good horsemanship. The story follows Jamie as she and her friends learn and practice many of the duties and tasks surrounding good care of horses. As Jamie advances to actually riding horses, in many places the book almost becomes a step-by-step instruction manual for many of the riding and horse jumping activities Jamie and other characters are learning. Parts of the book seem to read like a ‘how-to’ manual in performing certain undertakings with horses. As a reader, I was more interested in knowing how Jamie felt as she practiced and performed walking, trotting and jumping skills with the horse. What did it feel like to lunge, trot, jump a big, powerful animal and have it actually respond? For me, this essential part of the narrative was missing.

     I didn’t feel that Jamie’s character was as fully developed as it could have been, and I found her to be a one-dimensional character. Readers only get to know Jamie through her experiences with horses and the interactions of her friends at the stable. They have very little interaction with Jamie at school, in her home life, and with her father, and so readers don’t get to see other sides of Jamie. The story centres on Jamie at the riding stable. Although readers know that Jamie goes to Halifax a couple of times during the story to visit her father and best friend, they are not given the privilege of glimpsing into that part of Jamie’s world. Doing so would have provided readers with a more rounded picture of Jamie and would have helped develop the character for readers.

     Although the novel is set in Nova Scotia, nothing in the story actually places it in this eastern Canadian province. Because of this lack of descriptive setting, the story could have taken place anywhere. It would be nice for young readers to learn about this unique part of Canada through Jamie’s eyes and life. Halifax has so much history, as does Nova Scotia. It would have been a bonus and added immensely to the story to learn something of Halifax and Nova Scotia as readers read about Jamie and her adventures with Peach at Tamarack Stables. Although the story focuses on a young girl’s love and care of horses in an interesting part of Canada, I did not find Touch of Gold as engaging as it could have been. It is for these reasons I recommend it with reservations.

Recommended with Reservations.

Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of eight books and is most well-known for the Canadian best-selling “Tunnels of Moose Jaw” time travel adventures. She has written two books about Paralympic Champion Colette Bourgonje, a biography entitled Moving Forward and a picture book called Gina’s Wheels. She is currently working as an Instructional Consultant for Saskatoon Public Schools.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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