Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dream of Night, by Heather Henson

Twelve-year-old Shiloh, abused by a stepfather, has been in and out of so many foster homes (she refers to the foster parents as "Foster Freaks") that the next step is an institution. Dream of Night, a thoroughbred horse abused by his owner after he stopped winning races, is so damaged that his next step is the glue factory. Elderly Jessalyn DiLima, whose own past holds pain and loss, has been both a foster parent and horse rescuer for many years. But when Shiloh and Night need help at the same time, she's not too sure she isn't too old for all this. Shiloh isn't willing to cut "Mrs. Lima Bean" much slack, and Night screams whenever he sees the woman, but slowly, Night and Shiloh begin to win each other over. Then, just as all three are admitting in their deepest selves that this threesome arrangement holds out hope, logical -- but not predictable -- things hit the fan and threaten to break it all apart for them -- again.

The story is told in short chapters, during which each of the three POVs appear in about equal length. Thus, Shiloh is the protagonist of this MG novel really only by virtue of the fact that she's the MG-aged human. The horse and the elderly adult get their POV, too, making this book a rule-breaker, and a highly successful one. What I love is the lyrical, spare language. This is a poetic novel without being a novel in verse. The emotions are so believably rendered that I have no trouble imagining I can see inside an old lady, an extremely troubled girl, and a horse. Give me beautiful writing, emotional depth, a "quiet" book, yet an actual plot, and I'm hooked.

I have to say a few things about readership. The jacket flap gives a suggested age range of 8-12, but I'd be more apt to say 5th grade and up, for two reasons. One is that the emotional nuances are more advanced than the book's reading level; the second is that references to cigarette burns on Shiloh, the "bag of bones" condition of Night, and violence (veiled by Shiloh's confusion, but there) at the climax may be upsetting to some. Still, this is a lovely story of "last chance" redemption, a horse story with appeal to an audience far broader than just horse lovers, and a book with something for adults as well as their kids. An author's note about racehorse abuse is appended. One of my favorites of the "Newbery buzz" books this year.


Rena Jones said...

Sounds like a fascinating book.

Vijaya said...

Hey, the Internet ate my comment. This sounds very interesting and I often read books that break the rules to study them ... of course, also for story. Thanks for the recommendation. Merry Christmas, Marcia.

Jeff King said...

Great input, I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Thx for the post.

Marcia said...

Rena -- I'm glad when I can find books that really suck me in. Unfortunately, that seems to be happening less and less, and my guess is it's an occupational hazard.

Vijaya -- Yes, it's always interesting to see HOW rules can be broken successfully and in what ways the story benefits -- or triumphs in spite.

Jeff -- You're welcome! :)

Merry Christmas to all!

Anne Spollen said...

I will read anything with "lyrical, spare language" and this story sounds like a good one.

Thanks for the review, and Happy New Year!

Mary Witzl said...

This really does sound like a lovely book. 'Lyrical spare language' drew me right in too. It's not only a style I love, but a style I desperately want to learn (especially the 'spare' part). A rule-breaking book that tackles both animal and child abuse in a refreshing way sounds like something I'd really enjoy reading.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

It sounds like a great read. I agree with you on the age level, it does sound like some of the topics might be suited to older kids.

Have a wonderful New Year's Eve, Marcia!

Marcia said...

Anne -- I agree. It's the main reason I like most verse novels. Though such a fast read wouldn't satisfy me every time, I admire what can be done in spare language.

Mary -- I also love books where "everything comes together," and this book offers that, too.

Sharon -- I regret how hard it is for me to be drawn in by books lately, but this one did it for me. Happy New Year!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

wow! This sounds powerful. Love the cover too! THanks for this review!

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