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.