by Cecily von Ziegesar
To be published by Soho Teen
on September 13 2016
Summary from Goodreads: Merritt Wenner has been self-destructing ever since the tragic deaths of her grandmother and her horse, and after an epic all-night bender she walks out of the SAT and disappears. Her parents, looking for a quick fix, ship her off to a residential equine therapy program. At Good Fences, Merritt meets Red—a failed racehorse and a terror in the barn. Red has never bonded with anyone, but Merritt is not afraid of him, which makes all the difference. Soon they’re sneaking rides after curfew, which catches the attention of Red’s owner. Recognizing their potential, he funds their launch into the competitive hunter/jumper circuit. Against the cutthroat backdrop of competitive riding, Merritt and their groom, Beatrice, develop an attraction. Merritt also finds herself drawn to Carvin, a rival rider. But in Red’s mind, Merritt belongs to him alone. Anyone else poses a threat. And Merritt can’t foresee what he’ll do to keep her to himself.My take: I've been a fan of Cecily von Ziegesar since her Gossip Girl books. I liked the books; I liked the show. I'm also a fan of her writing, which I find sly and observant. She's great at creating characters -- especially female ones -- who are both flawed and sympathetic.
For me, Dark Horses was a bit of a mix. Happily, von Ziegesar's writing was true to form. The book opens with main character Merritt walking out of the SATs, getting drunk at the Oyster Bar, then staggering onto the Metro North to Connecticut, where she shows up at her dead grandmother's house. After that, she gets shipped off to an equine rehab program by her parents, who are too busy competing in extreme fitness events to tend to their obviously troubled only child. Then, one of Merritt's best friends turns Merritt's misfortune into a one-hit-wonder song reminiscent of Friday.
Now if that isn't campy, Gossip Girl worthy stuff, I don't know what is. All of that I liked a lot. I even didn't mind the fact that some of the story was narrated by a horse. Yes, a horse. Red-the-horse is as much of a free-spirited screw-up as Merritt, but of course these two misfits find each other and bond. I don't mind offbeat narrators -- I loved the POV of the pagoda in Please Ignore Vera Dietz -- and I think they can work. Red's perspective did add something to the story, but I also found his understanding of he world to be wildly inconsistent. He knows who Blue Oyster Cult is but doesn't understand a cigarette?
The relationship between Red and Merritt was definitely a little out-there. Freud had some theory about young girls and horses, but in this story Red was like a troubled stalker-y YA hero in horse form. There was basically a love rectangle featuring three humans and a horse. The scene where Red (highlight for spoilers)murders Beatrice was classic Gossip Girl -- so over-the-top that it kind of worked. I was sort of amused and horrified all at once. And can horses really die from drinking wine?(end spoiler)
I can't fully explain without spoilers, but I thought that Dark Horses fell apart a bit at the end. The story starts off as sort of a wildly experimental retelling of Black Beauty -- a book in which a horse also narrates. But toward the end, the book began to fall back on too many YA tropes for my liking. Still, if you're a fan of horse books and/or unconventional narrative techniques, I'd advise you to check this one out.
I'll be offering this ARC up (along with some others) on Freebie Friday - be sure to stop by!