From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–In prehistoric Western Asia, horses are seen as a source of food and nothing else. However, Fern, who has always had an affinity for animals, is about to change that perception. When she discovers a young mare caught in a bog, she figures out how to rescue and befriend her, and eventually how to ride her. Slowly, she convinces her tribe how invaluable horses could be as their companions and helpers rather than as mere prey. Fern gains the support of her grandmother, her teasing-but-loving twin brother, and her strong, warrior father. She and the horse become objects of fascination but also somewhat of fear in the tribe. In the meantime, a suitor, Badger, is determined to have her as his wife. He looks like a great catch but is actually a bully, further complicating her life. She finds love with an outcast from another tribe who has great healing powers and a kind heart. The story line and characters are fairly predictable. Only Fern seems multifaceted; Badger is mean, and grandmother is wise, but otherwise their characters are undeveloped. Still, a tale about the first taming of a horse may interest lovers of these animals, and Fern's human dilemmas along the way may keep them reading.–Carol Schene, formerly at Taunton Public Schools, MA
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*Starred Review* Set on the steppes of Central Asia 6,000 years ago, Williams' stirring coming-of-age story begins with a pourquoi
tale about how the wild horse became domesticated. After Fern discovers a wild foal trapped in a bog, she keeps her find a secret; horses are prized food among her hunting and gathering tribe. She names the foal Thunder, and in between chores, she steals time with the animal. Dreams lead her to try something unknown: "Who in all the world had ever sat upon a living horse?" Eventually her community discovers her secret, and when Thunder proves her usefulness by carrying loads, Fern is allowed to keep her. Still, she wonders if the rumors whispered by suspicious family and neighbors are true: "Maybe I was
some strange animal-talker person! . . . Was I touched with darkness, as my mother said?" Williams' novel combines the exciting animal story with Fern's wrenching questions about growing up, which will resonate instantly with contemporary teens. Fern aggressively strains against her mother's expectations and her society's traditional gender roles, and it is these timeless struggles, narrated in Fern's poetic voice, that transform Williams' impressively researched details into a vividly imagined, wholly captivating world. Jean Craighead George and Louise Erdrich fans will particularly love the animal connections, but most teens will admire Fern's unbending courage and her timeless search for a place in the world and a love to share. Gillian EngbergCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved