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The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: A Novel Hardcover – June 4, 2013
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*Starred Review* Set in the 1930s, full of alluring descriptions, and featuring a headstrong lead character, this is a literary novel that is also full of scandal, sex, and secrets. Fifteen-year-old Thea Atwell has been banished from her Florida family and sent to an exclusive equestrienne boarding school located high in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Homeschooled along with her fraternal twin, Thea had lived an overprotected and insular existence until the tragic incident that triggered her ouster from the family. Thrust into a complicated social milieu of southern debutantes and their rigid pecking order based on money, lineage, and looks, Thea struggles with overwhelming feelings of guilt and homesickness as well as the challenge of fitting into her new school. But she also begins to feel her power, both because she knows she is beautiful and because she is an expert rider. Some readers will be put off by the book’s deliberate pacing and explicit sex scenes, but others will be held in thrall by the world so vividly and sensually rendered in a novel that is as sophisticated in its writing as it is in its themes. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This stellar debut novel was reported to have been bought for seven figures and has received blurbs from such high-profile authors as Curtis Sittenfeld and Lauren Groff. --Joanne Wilkinson
“What makes Yonahlossee emotionally engaging in its own right—this summer’s first romantic page turner—is Ms. DiSclafani’s sure-footed sense of narrative and place, and her decision to portray her heroine, Thea Atwell, in all her complexity: fierce, passionate, strong-willed, but also selfish, judgmental and self-destructive. By setting the novel in 1930, as America teeters on a financial cliff, and the days of debutante balls and fancy-dress parties seem numbered, Ms. DiSclafani has tried to situate the rarefied world her characters inhabit in a real-life context, even as she gives the reader some well-observed glimpses of the lifestyles of the rich and not so famous. . . . By cutting back and forth between the events that took Thea to Yonahlossee and her experiences in school, Ms. DiSclafani methodically builds suspense, making the reader wonder how Thea’s two romances will unfurl, and whether they will dovetail or collide. . . . The reader’s attention rarely wavers, thanks to Ms. DiSclafani’s knowledge of how to keep her foot on her story’s gas pedal, and her sympathy for her spirited, unbridled heroine.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is no one-trick phony. Even as Thea keeps wetting her lips to tell us the unspeakable truth, we’re lured into more complex and provocative aspects of her story. . . . The novel’s most daring aspect [is] its winding exploration of adolescent sexuality. . . . DiSclafani is a crafty mistress of . . . pious conventions. Her heroine must confront the old harlot-or-saint choice, but she won’t ultimately accept either role. Here is a young woman coming to understand the varieties of sexual experience—from abuse to delight—without renouncing her desire. . . . Sensing . . . harsh judgment from home and school and world, Thea concedes, 'I’m not a right girl.' But she’s fearless, and she’s riding to win."—The Washington Post
“DiSclafani is an insanely talented writer—her precise period details and lovely descriptions of riding and adolescence have a spellbinding effect.”—Entertainment Weekly
"DiSclafani's writing is smart and sexy, and her characters are flawed and worth knowing as they navigate through life and don't always make the wisest decisions."—NPR
"Sparkling . . . DiSclafani's transporting prose recalls that uneasy time at the brink of adulthood, and reminds us that even the most protective parents can't keep the world at bay."—O, the Oprah Magazine
“The tone of the novel’s opening pages is hushed and portentous, as DiSclafani creates an atmosphere of spooky anticipation and foreboding. So vivid are DiSclafani’s descriptions that one can almost feel the humidity in the air, taste the famed Yonahlossee iced tea, see the gorgeous vistas of Blue Ridge Mountains around the camp.”—Boston Globe
“DiSclafani’s mastery of pace and mystery and her skilled evocation of the atmosphere in sultry Florida and the crisp Carolina mountains make this an uncommon first novel.”—Dallas Morning News
“There's much to enjoy here: clear, concise writing, lushly drawn settings, compelling choices of time and place.”—Chicago Tribune
"A captivating story of shame, blame and family secrets.”—USA Today
“Anton DiSclafani's debut novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, is a painstakingly constructed ode to a young girl's sexual awakening. This is perhaps one of the classier books a young teen would hide under her covers to read with a flashlight.”—NPR.org
"Boys may be boys, but girls—well, their coming-of-age can be more complicated. Anton DiSclafani’s vivid, beautifully written novel explores the consequences for Thea, a headstrong Depression-era teen who is banished to a posh southern school after a family tragedy."—Parade
"A smart, satisfying first novel."—Real Simple
"Lush . . . the tensions, jealousies and triumphs are deftly blended to vividly portray the coming of age of a gathering of girls at a particular time in a particular place."—New York Daily News
“In elegant prose that evokes the cadences of a vanished epoch, DiSclafani unfolds at a leisurely pace… An unusually accomplished and nuanced coming-of-age drama.”—Kirkus (starred review)
"Set in the 1930s, full of alluring descriptions, and featuring a headstrong lead character, this is a literary novel that is also full of scandal, sex, and secrets. . . . [Readers] will be held in thrall by the world so vividly and sensually rendered here in a novel that is as sophisticated in its writing as it is in its themes."—Booklist (starred review)
“Engrossing, empathetic, and atmospheric, this debut will resonate with readers as the author eloquently portrays the inevitable missteps in coming of age. Highly recommended.” – Library Journal (starred review)
“I fell completely under the spell of Anton DiSclafani’s amazing first novel and was gripped by its lush and dreamy evocations of Southern decorum, family secrets, and boarding school rituals. DiSclafani is wildly talented, and this is a sexy, suspenseful, gorgeously written book.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep
“The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is so sexy, smart, and vividly drawn that I was surprised to remember that this novel is Anton DiSclafani's first. With such a big-hearted and atmospheric book, Ms. DiSclafani's talents should be celebrated far and wide.”— Lauren Groff, author of The Monsters of Templeton
“Thea Atwell is an unforgettable heroine, and DiSclafani’s pitch-perfect details of time and place effortlessly drew me into this fantastic novel’s authentic and alluring world.”—Laura Moriarty, author of The Chaperone
“In her haunting debut, Anton DiSclafani reminded me how I came to love reading as a child, the way a book can so envelop you in its unique and vibrant world that even as you race toward the end, you find yourself dreading the moment it’s finished. It’s a fierce and tender, beautiful novel.”—Aryn Kyle, author of The God of Animals
Top customer reviews
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Thea, the narrator, makes so many stupid, reckless, selfish choices and takes no responsibility for the damage she causes. She acknowledges her mistakes, "a series of events" and just skates through. There is no protagonist in the book, and that's fine, but the author doesn't pull it off.
Stories that glorify sexual exploitation of a child are troubling and unpleasant no matter how presented. This author paints the scenes between Thea and her exploiter with the touch of a bodice-ripper, which makes it all the more cringe-worthy. During those scenes, I found myself wondering if this book was so popular for being a milder, much better written 50 Shades. (Did the publisher convince the author to add these scenes to sell the book? I guess that worked). Even worse, it suggests the child is the exploiter, and well, just how very Lolita. Yawn.
For me, it was an engaging and mostly well written story of a mad horny teenager who makes hot messes and is indifferent to the wreckage and drama she creates. The side characters are all shallow (though with short flashes of something special in Sissy, the mother, the father and a few others and there are a LOT of other characters). The ending is too rapidly and too neatly tied up.
However, this author is talented and the book is graced with much fine writing, some insights (that never go quite deeply enough) and lovely moments. I hope Disclafani's next novel keeps the promise she shows (Anton in this case is a woman).
I immediately guessed the scandal for which Thea was sent away, and I could easily see what was ahead, but
since it was on some summer reading lists for high schoolers, and includes graphic sex scenes, I expected it would offer some moral vision. It does. It offers up a gauzy nihilism. That can be a point of departure for, say, a philosophical discussion in a classroom, but only if the characters exhibit some depth or moral complexity. They don't. The story and the characters are forgettable.
I'd say skip it.
Most recent customer reviews
Not withstanding it was a good read.