As in The Quicksand Pony, picture book author/artist Lester sets her multifaceted second novel on an Australian cattle farm. Resourceful, responsible Dusty Riley loves working alongside her father, a proud, fourth-generation cattle farmer, and her mother, a former showjumping champion who now trains other people's horses. Most of all, Dusty loves the Snow Pony, which she and her father found wild near their mountain property and brought back to their ranch, and which Dusty herself has trained (horse-story enthusiasts will thrill to the classic encounter in which the wild pony, having bucked the experienced adults, permits Dusty to ride her). While Dusty and the Snow Pony triumph at various competitions, the scope of the novel extends beyond horse-mania. A three-year drought drastically reduces the family's income-and dramatically alters Dusty's father, who withdraws into the temporary solace of alcohol. Dusty also copes with outsider status at school and misses her only friend, now at boarding school in Melbourne. Lester braids the various strands of the plot into an exciting conclusion, involving a classmate stranded near the Rileys' mountain property, an accident and a tense ride through a snowstorm on the pony to fetch help. The author alternates between detailed, closely observed scenes and more general narration that chronicles the characters from a distance. The varied focus somewhat slackens the tension but also allows the story to cover more ground. Even if some of the Aussie references are difficult to penetrate, the writing successfully transports readers to an enticingly foreign milieu. Ages 10-14. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Plots in which setting functions as a character are greatly enriched, as is the case in this story of fourteen-year-old Dusty Riley, her younger brother Stewie, and their parents, who are fourth-generation cattle farmers in a remote hilly region of Australia. Long-term drought has taken a toll on the family. As their finances deteriorate, Dusty's parents argue frequently and seem headed for divorce. Her angry father, Jack, battles alcoholism, and Dusty fears that he might be suicidal. The main joy in her life is the snow pony that Jack captured in the mountains three years earlier, who allows only Dusty to ride her. The money Dusty earns from show jumping bolsters the family income. While up on the high plains to muster the cows and bring them down for winter, Dusty, Stewie, and Jack are forced to take refuge in a hut because of a heavy snowstorm. Dusty's classmate Jade suddenly appears, having escaped from two hunters who drove her up on the plains and tried to sexually assault her. When Jack is seriously injured by a violent cow, Dusty and Jade must ride back down for help through unfamiliar, snow-covered terrain. The plot's components-girl-loves-horse story, family drama, girls-against-the-elements adventure-make this novel a multilayered pleasure. Down under idioms and syntax give the text a unique flavor. This reviewer found it disconcerting when the third-person limited point of view switched from Dusty's to Jade's in two chapters. Lester knows cattle farming, show jumping, and that corner of the world, all of which makes her novel entertaining and engaging. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8;Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2003, Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Mifflin, 208p, Munat
Wild and restless, a young pony called Snow Pony accidentally finds her way into Dusty's life and her heart. This adventure takes place in the out backs of Australia. The country is rough so it takes special people to survive and thrive in it. The Riley family experiences this first hand as a three-year drought takes a toll on their finances and their family life. With the proper training and experience, Dusty and the pony come to the rescue by entering and winning numerous jumping events. The money helps but does not eliminate the stress building inside her father. He explodes and makes many bad decisions before he realizes what he has done to his family. He finally gets help, but is he strong enough to protect his family when the time comes? The climax brings everything out into the open and even the feisty pony learns what it means to have a home. Alison Lester finds an interesting place to set her horse story. The ending is predictable, but the characters came across as real and fun. Due to delicate adult situations, some readers may find this a little too educational. 2003, Houghton Mifflin Company,
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-The high plains of Australia have been hit by a severe drought that has brought difficult times to the cattle farmers. Dusty Riley, 14, has always been her father's "right-hand man," but as the situation grows worse her dad begins to withdraw from his family, causing everyone more stress. Her only consolation is her love for her horse, the Snow Pony. The mare was a brumby, and now allows only Dusty to ride and take care of her. When the teen, her younger brother, and her father set out to bring the cattle down from the high country for the winter, they encounter illegal hunters who threaten their lives. Before the roundup is over, a serious snowstorm impedes their progress and Dusty and her pony prove their courage as they go for help. This fast-paced "horse and girl" adventure story has interesting, well-developed characters, and the tension among the family members is well drawn. The dangerous situations are well integrated into the plot, and the upbeat ending is plausible and satisfying.-Carol Schene, Taunton Public Schools, MA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A somewhat incoherent adventure set in Australia's plains. Dusty, 11, is thrilled when her father catches the wild Snow Pony and brings her to their farm for her horse-trainer mother to break. Despite careful work, Snow Pony retains a savage streak, yet she and Dusty win prizes galore-fortunately, since drought has reduced their cows and their income to gauntness. Dad guzzles beer; Mom rages; brother Stewie withdraws. Snow Pony is Dusty's only constant. Part Two is a story of a different color. Dusty and Stewie accompany their sobered father on a cattle round-up. After a series of accidents, Dusty and a friend must ride for help out of the snowy bush-Dusty on Snow Pony. Crisp writing and terrific adventure scenes propel the reader (but for an Aussie glossary!), but it's neither a whole story nor only one story; the layers mingle, and lack suspense. Still, horse lovers will persevere. (Fiction. 10-15)
From the Publisher
“Lester introduces readers to a willful Australian girl in this gripping adventure novel.” Booklist, ALA
“The plot’s components—girl–loves–horse story, family drama, girls–against–the–elements adventure—make this novel a multilayered pleasure.” VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)
“This fast–paced ‘horse and girl’ adventure story has interesting well–developed characters, and the tension among the family members is well drawn.” School Library Journal
“Crisp writing and terrific adventure scenes propel the reader.” Kirkus Reviews