Friday, February 22, 2013

SECONDHAND HORSES by Lauraine Snelling and Kathleen Damp Wright

This is the third book in the S.A.V.E Squad - the group of three eleven-year-old girls, Sunny, Aneta, Vee, and Esther. When I requested an e-galley, there was no indication that it was Christian fiction, an area in which I have no expertise or interest, so I will be reviewing it as series fiction/middle-grade fiction. I read it aloud to my six-year-old and we both agreed that it seemed LONG (and we've read much longer chapter books), although the animal-rescue parts kept us reading. As series fiction, this book had some flaws. Ignoring the number one rule of a series, there is no summary of what happened in the previous two books. Apparently, the girls have had adventures before, and I gathered eventually that these adventures involved helping animals, but I was missing backstory. The girls are different from each other in background, family life, and personality, but they are two-dimensional, embodying only the characteristics the author assigned them.

As far as messages go, this book is very mixed for me. The girls compromise with each other and love to help animals in need. They come up with a great idea to help the reluctant readers group at the library learn to enjoy reading. There are some preachy passages that I skipped because I'm in serious disagreement with their philosophy. "Sunny...felt kind of like the zoo. What good was she? She knew from years of Sunday school that God loved everyone. That He didn't make mistakes creating people; however, she wasn't quite sure He hadn't dozed off when He was finishing her brain." So, if you believe that human beings only have value because God created them and doesn't make mistakes (um, hello? Hitler?) and you're looking to indoctrinate your children into that belief, this is definitely the book for you.

The premise of the book is that after Sunny ruins dinner on her night to cook (by becoming distracted with something else), her "consequences" are to go stay with her uncle for two weeks on his new ranch and help take care of the horses and clean out the previous owner's stuff. It was a few chapters in before I realized Sunny must be homeschooled (see above for missing backstory). The attitude of the parents when Sunny ruins dinner is really harsh and seemed disproportionate the the offense (they simply sit at the dinner table with nothing in front of them while the spaghetti she put in the pot burns). Sunny and her parents together determine the appropriate consequences, which was nice. The idea is that Sunny will learn to finish things without getting distracted, but when she fails to clean out a barn as promised, her uncle trips on some junk and breaks his ankle badly enough to need surgery. Now Sunny is also in charge of taking care of her uncle as he recovers. (Seriously? She's eleven.) She and her friends decide to buy a petting zoo from the carnival (Creepy Carnival Guy) by pooling their money when CCG announces he hates the zoo and wants to sell it. I had a number of problems with that - buying a zoo without permission? Handing $50 over to a creepy guy and telling him where they live so he can deliver the animals the next day? Not really smart choices. When someone is breaking into the barn at night and they decide to withhold evidence from the sheriff and catch the guy themselves? Not smart. My six-year-old said at one point, "I don't think it's a good idea to chase the bad guy in the woods! Why don't they just call 911?" Exactly.

Sunny was fairly irritating. Her favorite (very frequently repeated) catch phrases are yayness/ughness to denote good/bad things, "rocko socko," and "for pizza sake." The point of her learning to finish things could have been made in many fewer pages without having her get distracted and abandon a project at least a half-dozen times. The repetition really made the book drag. That said, there's a lovely story of girls helping animals and finding a creative way to help reluctant readers hidden in here somewhere. Uncle Dave is also a good example - he shows compassion and generosity in taking in an abandoned horse and working with a family to help them keep their horse in difficult economic times. He's also surprisingly understanding when Sunny's distractedness causes his ankle injury, but that may have been the pain medication.

My daughter and I agreed that we might be interested in the first two books if we skipped the boring parts and just read the animal-saving parts.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

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