The First Horse I See

( 7 )


Before she died, Willo's mother made her father promise that Willo could finally have a horse. Her grandfather warns her: don't fall in love with the first horse that you see. But Willo does-with Tess, a feisty ex-racehorse who has been mistreated by her former owners. Willo is convinced she can tame her, despite her father's disapproval. But hope and reality are two different things...

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Before she died, Willo's mother made her father promise that Willo could finally have a horse. Her grandfather warns her: don't fall in love with the first horse that you see. But Willo does-with Tess, a feisty ex-racehorse who has been mistreated by her former owners. Willo is convinced she can tame her, despite her father's disapproval. But hope and reality are two different things...

"Fast-moving and complex. Willo is a resilient and believable heroine with whom readers will empathize."- School Library Journal, starred review

Left in the care of her beloved Granddad following the death of her mother, Willojean tries to prove to her alcoholic father that she is able to train a special horse which had been abused.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This tale has much to offer beyond the standard equine love story themes. Just as she did in the historical novel Moon of Two Dark Horses, Keehn quietly delivers a powerful emotional punch through empathic characterizations and a deceptively simple story line. Having been promised by her dying mother that she could have a horse, 14-year-old narrator Willo, heedless of her maternal grandfather's admonition, insists on buying the first one she sees: Tess, a bony and battered former racehorse. Seeing that Willo has little control over her potentially dangerous mount, her autocratic and hard-drinking father gives her a deadline to get Tess in hand. As Willo makes progress under the expertise of riding instructor Diana, her fierce commitment to Tess grows ever stronger, as do her feelings for Diana's son, Colin. But heartache follows soon on the heels of their first kiss, for he and his mother must flee from Diana's abusive husband. Keehn movingly illustrates the redemptive power of love, as well as the importance of letting go when love just isn't enough. Ages 8-13. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Carol Lynch
Willojean's life is complicated. As the story opens, she is convincing her grandfather to buy her what would appear to be the least desirable candidate at a farm for abused horses. Although Tess was a fine racehorse in her day, now she is emaciated, infected, and frightened. Willojean's grandfather is both wise and soft-hearted; he agrees to give Tess a trial period. However, Tess proves to be a greater challenge than Willo anticipated. Many relationships unfold throughout the story. Willo's silent struggle to deal with the recent death of her mother is compounded by her ambiguous feelings toward her absent, alcoholic father. In addition, she is experiencing the pangs of first love. Two pillars of strength support Willo through these hard times--her grandfather and her riding teacher, Diana. The balancing act between control and chaos throughout this story is handled skillfully. Keehn has created a character who realistically embodies the confusing emotions of adolescence. Maturity and childishness alternate in waves as Willo learns to understand Tess and herself, and middle-grade readers will identify with Willojean in this captivating story.
Children's Literature - Carol Collins
This novel tells the fast-paced but touching story of Willojean, a bright, determined 13-year-old girl who struggles to prove to her alcoholic father that she should keep Tess, the spirited, though formerly abused horse whom she loves. With the support of her grandfather and her riding instructor, Willo overcomes many setbacks to finally learn how to get Tess "on the bit" and proudly pass inspection before her father. The reader shares in her lessons about horses, abuse, good-byes, control and letting go. She deals with more hard issues than a youngster should have to-including the death of her mother, the on-again off-again relationship with her father, the loss of both her first boyfriend and her mother substitute-all in one year. This is a very sensual story where sights, scents, kisses, songs, and dreams are relayed from the viewpoint of early puberty. The Maryland setting of a Chesapeake Bay farm is made palpable from its hot, clammy summer days to its autumn with transcendental leaves. The story's authenticity should echo in the heart of any youth who owns, wishes to own, or just dreams of owning a horse.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-From the moment Willojean sees the bony, skittish ex-racehorse, she is convinced that it is the horse for her. Reluctantly, her grandfather acquiesces, and they take Tess back to their Chesapeake Bay farm. However, when her father returns from a trip, he, too, is convinced that his daughter has made a bad choice and gives her a date by which Tess must either be under control or sent back to the dealer. Willo is also dealing with her mother's recent death and her father's alcoholism as well as his emotional and physical absence. Her friends, Dove and Colin, offer their help with Tess, but Colin is having his own problems with an abusive stepfather. Through hard work, determination, and kindness, Willo begins to make some progress with her horse, but Colin's life becomes more desperate, and he and his mother make plans to escape. Before they can get away, the stepfather shoots Colin's beloved horse. This tragedy forces Willo's father to look at his relationship with his daughter and to appreciate how much she has grown through her work with Tess and how much she and the horse need one another. There are no fairy-tale endings here, even though the conclusion is upbeat. Willo's father's alcoholism is still a problem and Tess is still a difficult horse. However, all of the characters are richly drawn and the plot is fast moving and complex. Willo is a resilient and believable heroine with whom readers will empathize, making this well-written story a worthwhile and entertaining read.-Carol Schene, Taunton Public Schools, MA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A typical girl-and-her-horse story is transformed by Keehn (Moon of Two Dark Horses, 1995, etc.) into a novel about pain, loss, love, forgiveness, and redemption. It was a promise Willo's mother made before she died: Willo was to have a horse of her own. Now working on her grandfather's farm in Maryland while her father is away on secret government projects, and despite Grandpa's warnings to the contrary, Willo takes on the first horse she sees. Tess is a former race horse who has been starved and abused by her previous owner. With the help of her grandfather and her riding teacher, Diana, Willo begins the long and arduous process of restoring Tess's health and her trust in people. Running through this are several complicating threads: Willo's father returns, he wants Willo to give up Tess, his project loses funding, he begins drinking; Diana leaves her husband and moves away, taking her son Colin, a romantic interest for Willo, with her. These distractions only give the main story, of Willo's learning to believe in herself and to work with her horse, more life, and give readers all the more reason to be glad when Willo succeeds. (Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780698118676
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 990,737
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.83 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Sally Keehn can remember her childhood days in Annapolis, Maryland – days spent reading, horseback riding, swimming, and exploring the woods surrounding her grandfather’s farm. Though she would bid Annapolis good-bye at the age of nineteen to embark on an English degree at Hood College, Keehn’s days of “exploring” were just beginning.

After college, her thirst for learning led her to Korea, where she spent a year working for the American Red Cross and traveling through Far-East Asia. She then proceeded to Drexel University for her M.S. in Library Science, and she has worked as a librarian in both Maryland and Pennsylvania.

It was while writing a travel book with her husband that Sally Keehn discovered the incident that gave rise to her first historical novel for Philomel – the award-winning I Am Regina. Since then, she’s searched out America’s back-roads for the stories of its people and its past. She’s written six novels for Penguin Books for Young Readers: three works of historical fiction - I Am Regina, Moon of Two Dark Horses and Anna Sunday; a contemporary novel based loosely on her own life - The First Horse I See; a fantasy set in Eastern Tennessee during the troubled era following the Civil War – Gnat Stokes and the Foggy Bottom Swamp Queen. And in spring, 2007, Philomel Books will release her sixth title - a fantasy set in 1872 south-eastern Kentucky – Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon.

Sally Keehn says, “I never know until I go exploring what new story – what new adventure – lies beyond the bend in the road.”

*You can learn more about Sally Keehn and her books at:

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2013

    Easy to read and understand!

    Easy to read and understand!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2007


    This book was just awesome! I love horses and have one of my own. I am 13 years old and I can really relate to this book. A wonderful story written nicely. If you love horses you should read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2004

    This is the BEST book ever!!!

    This book is so AWSOME!! it is my favorite book! horse lovers will love this book and so will people that don't neccisarily love horses! i reccomend this book to anyone! This book is full of romance,horses,and it will make you want to keep reading when it is over you will wish for more!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2003

    I loved it

    I loved this book, i just read it, it was awesome!! I wish Colin would have stayed tho, and Jack woulda died... lol...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2003


    I love the book one of the best Ive read in a long time! I'd recommend this book to ANYONE!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2003


    I read this book a long time ago but I do remember I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love horses and this story was very touching.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2001

    Wonderful, adventure book

    This book was the first book I read entierly through. I love horses and I love to read books about them. This story touched my heart in a spot that hasn't been touched in a long time. It brought back memories of a horse I once knew who died of a disease. I recommend this book to any person that has a heart or is a horse lover.

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews

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