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Thursday, September 19, 2013

"The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls" by Anton Disclafani~Spotlight


It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer.


Published by:  Riverhead  (Penguin)
Pages:  400
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
In [DiSclafani's] story there are echoes of A Separate Peace…as well as of Curtis Sittenfeld's more recent boarding school novel, Prep. 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…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.
The Washington Post - Ron Charles
…a 20th-century gothic tale that reads like a lusty cousin of Bronte's classic [Jane Eyre]…From one angle…The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls seems like the most old-fashioned, counter-revolutionary kind a novel. Despite some explicitly lubricated scenes, it's downright Victorian in its insistence that when a young woman strays outside the bounds of sexual propriety, she ruins herself and those around her. But DiSclafani is a crafty mistress of those 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…without renouncing her desire.
Publishers Weekly
The setup for this debut novel is delectable: it’s 1930, the country is tumbling into depression, and 15-year-old Thea has done something bad enough to get her sent from Florida to an elite year-round “camp” in North Carolina where, at least at first, the effects of the economy are kept at bay while affluent Southern girls become “ladies.” DiScalfani, who grew up around horses, is at her best when recreating the intuition and strength of girls in the saddle. Otherwise Thea’s narration feels flattened by history and the characters she encounters never achieve dimensionality. The build toward the revelation of Thea’s crime is drawn out, sapping the reveal of drama, but the account of Thea’s emerging sexuality provides meaningful reflections on the potency of teenage desire. Here too, however, DiScalfani seems distanced from her characters, relying on declarations such as “I was not weak,” “I was angry,” and “I was glum” when exploring the tension of conflicting feelings. Though there are many twists and turns, the prose numbs the pleasure of reading about even the most forbidden of Thea’s trysts. Agent: Dorian Karchmar, WME Entertainment. (June)
Matchbook Magazine
...gorgeous & popular online women's magazine praises: Few debuts are as mature and page turning as Anton DiSclafani's wonderful The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls…it is clear that DiSclafani has announced herself as a brave new voice in American letters and we can't wait to see more from her.
NPR Online
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.
Daily Beast Hot Reads
One imagines that this book will be gifted to more than one young equestrian on the basis of the title alone: perhaps a slight error for the giver, although the receiver will love it enough to tuck it under her thin camp mattress to keep it safe.
MSN Page Turner Blog
...a strong read for older teens and young women.
Kirkus Reviews
DiSclafani's debut chronicles a teenager's life-changing year at an elite boarding school in the North Carolina mountains. Thea arrives at the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, expanded years earlier to a year-round school, in the summer of 1930. She has been sent away from her home in central Florida for an initially mysterious offense, and she bitterly regrets her exile from the isolated rural paradise she roamed freely with her twin brother, Sam. Though she frequently tells us she has rarely spent time with anyone other than relatives, Thea is a self-assured newcomer who quickly assumes a favored spot in the girls' pecking order, partly because she's taken up by popular Sissy, partly because she's an excellent horsewoman, but mostly because this stunned survivor of family ostracism seems to her peers a cool, detached observer indifferent to their approval. In elegant prose that evokes the cadences of a vanished epoch, DiSclafani unfolds at a leisurely pace the twin narratives of Thea's odyssey at school and the charged relationship with her cousin Georgie that led to a confrontation with Sam and disgrace. Sympathetic new friends, like the school's headmaster, Mr. Holmes, help her see that her parents unfairly chose to punish her and protect Sam, but as Thea and Holmes move into an affair, she acknowledges the fierce, unabashed sexuality that frightened her family and means she will never be the sort of proper young lady Yonahlossee was designed to cultivate. Times are changing, even in this privileged enclave; several girls have to leave when their ruined fathers can no longer pay the bills, and Thea's family is forced to sell the home she yearns for. DiSclafani writes with equal intelligence and precision about female desire and a rider's kinship with her horse; her perfectly judged denouement allows Thea to simultaneously sacrifice herself for a friend and defiantly affirm that she will only be "a right girl" on her own terms. An unusually accomplished and nuanced coming-of-age drama.
Library Journal
Young, beautiful, and privileged, Thea Atwell lives on a sprawling ranch in Florida. She loves her twin brother, her parents, and, most of all, her horses. But while she intuitively understands the equestrian life, social isolation and unusual family dynamics have left her confused. She yields to her youthful desires and ends up in trouble with a boy, with disastrous consequences that compel her parents to send her to a horse camp for girls in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There, Thea learns how to navigate a complex yet nurturing social environment, one that allows her to acquire the life lessons she so desperately needs. Even as the Great Depression compounds the shattering of Thea's once predictable world, she ultimately finds the measure of her own strength. VERDICT Engrossing, empathetic, and atmospheric, this debut will resonate with readers as the author eloquently portrays the inevitable missteps in coming of age. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/12.]—Susanne Wells, Indianapolis, IN


Anton DiSclafani grew up in northern Florida, where she rode horses, competing nationally. She graduated from Emory University and received her MFA from Washington University, where she currently teaches creative writing.  She lives in St. Louis.


This is one of those books on my stacks that I'm dying to read.  It's had mixed reviews. The intriguing part of it to me is the mixed bag of the mysterious reason the protagonist, Thea, was sent away to the Camp, and the contrast with the way the author handles or mishandles it.  I look forward to making a decision of my own about the book.  Looks like a good one!



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