________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 30. . . .April 8, 2016


Jockey Girl.

Shelley Peterson.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2016.
318 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $12.99 (pbk.), $12.99 (pdf), $8.99 (epub).
ISBN 978-1-4597-3434-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-3435-7 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4597-3436-4 (epub).

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Penta Ledger.

***1/2 /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


After leaving the jockeys’ room at Woodbine on Saturday afternoon, Evie went to check on Christieloo and Kazzam. They looked good. They’d eaten all their food and were drinking water, and were peeing and pooping as usual. Nothing at all to worry about. But as she stroked Kazzam’s forehead with its distinctive heart-shaped star, Evie couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something would go wrong.

People said that is was normal to have nerves before a big race, and Evie knew that with the dark skies and dismal rain, her imagination must be working overtime. She should get a grip. Besides, she told herself, as well as the stable security guards, Yolanda would be right there watching over Kazzam.

Since the Thursday draw, she’d been waiting for some kind of retaliation from her father, but none had come, not even a threat. His letter was sincere. It had to be. He was not a scorpion.

Evie climbed into bed Saturday night after organizing everything she could think of for the race the next day. She was showered and ready to go, with her clothes laid out and necessities packed. It was still early in the evening, only nine-thirty, but Evie needed a good night’s sleep, like Bart had advised.

She drifted off to sleep, comforted by thoughts of Yolanda and the security at Woodbine. She slept deeply and dreamlessly.

Suddenly, at midnight, thunder crashed right over the farmhouse. Evie sat straight up in bed, her heart pounding. A tongue of lightening split the sky into sections, accompanied by another ear-splitting roar.

Anxiety flooded her body. Her pulse raced. Something was wrong. Kazzam, she felt sure of it. He needed her. She had to make certain he was all right.


Evangeline (Evie) Gibb is a 16-year-old girl whose love of horses takes her beyond just riding to racing in the Queen’s Plate. As the unappreciated daughter of the wealthy and well-known Grayson Gibb, Evie lives at Maple Mills Stables with her stepmother, Pauline, and her two stepsiblings, Beatrice and Jordie. Evie doesn’t really get along with her stepfamily and even less with her father, who is only known for his temper and no-nonsense approach to everything, especially running a stable for race horses. Though Evie’s father always told her that her mother died when Evie was three, a letter from her distant Aunt Mary makes Evie believe her mother was still alive. Her hope to meet her mother after all these years is only the beginning of Evie’s adventures.

     Keeping her Aunt Mary’s note a secret, Evie hatches a plan to win enough money to run away to her aunt’s house and hopefully find out more about her mother. Evie plans to win the money by sneaking away with one of the stable’s most feared thoroughbreds, No Justice, and enter the Caledon Horse Race. Evie is the only person that the horse will let ride him, and the two quickly build a tight bond. Evie names him Kazzam. Easily, the pair win the race and return home with the purse. Evie’s plans to go to Toronto to connect with Aunt Mary are coming together, but a threat on Kazzam’s life prompts Evie to fast-forward her plans and escape Maple Mills with the horse.

     Ending up at Aunt Mary’s farm, Parson’s Bridge, which turns out to be only a few concessions away from Maple Mills, Evie learns that her mother, Angeline, is alive, but she continues to live on the streets of Toronto battling her addiction to OxyContin related to a riding accident. Aunt Mary and Evie find Angeline and learn more about the Gibb family secrets.

     To everyone’s surprise, Angeline is the owner of Kazzam and the rest of Maple Mills, not Grayson Gibb. With recovered legal documents and support from Aunt Mary and her friends, Evie and Kazzam qualify for the Queen’s Plate. After a nail-biting race, the pair is victorious, and Angeline is there to see it.

     Jockey Girl is a very detailed story that gives the reader insight into the horse racing industry. Any readers that are interested in horses will find themselves revelling in the detailed account of racing life. Suspense is created as the pace of the story is kept constant, prompting the reader to move quickly through several pages in order to find out what happens next. At times, however, the story would benefit by just getting to the point.

     The novel would be appropriate for young adolescent girls as this is the age of the main character. Further, the characters’ development and voices are predictable and consistent so that a young reader would not be confused about the several characters in the story. Evie’s love of horses and her strong will to persevere make her a positive role model for YA readers.

     Jockey Girl does close with a clear “bow on the box” ending, but the serious issues within the story balance this type of happily-ever-after feeling. The aggressive and controlling character of Evie’s father, Grayson Gibb, never changes, and his defeat at the end of the novel feels like triumph. The novel also addresses stepfamilies, drug addiction, animal abuse, abusive relationships, the triumphs and perils of horseracing, adoption and young love. Peterson does a solid job of knitting together the various issues within the 3-4 months of Evie Gibb’s life, but in some instances, the connections seemed forced, especially when Evie goes to find her mother. However, with an eye to suspended belief, Jockey Girl is a detailed and action-filled story that makes the reader want to race to the finish.

Highly Recommended.

Penta Ledger is a teacher-librarian at Gravenhurst High School in Gravenhurst, ON.

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

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