Wow! What a book! There Must Be Horses is a thoroughly modern pony book that is not sentimental but a crisply written piece of teenage fiction with superb characterisation and a pacy plot. It gripped me from the start to the very last page.
Sasha is 12 and has lots of problems. Her behavioural problems have caused her adoption to fail and she is off again with yet another social worker to yet another foster family. This is an emergency weekend placement and the foster family have only agreed to take her as it is an emergency. She falls asleep on the journey and arrives in the dark. She only gradually realises that she has come to a farm with horses.
The following day she watches a new arrival, a very difficult horse, unloaded. The horse is almost wild and crashing and lunging: he frightens Sasha very badly. The foster family take horses on their last chance and try to rehabilitate them. This horse is Meteor. The journeys of the traumatised horse and damaged child are parallel plots that coincide beautifully in the dramatic ending. This a pony book for those who had no idea they might like pony books, but it will please the horse mad too.
Peril: minor, from the horse at the beginning, and there is a fall from a horse later in the book.
This is a remarkable book that has little to alarm the most anxious guardian, there is nothing on romantic relationships, no bad lanaguage, no external violence, minimal peril, no ghosts, no death, no religion. Sasha does make one brief reference to her mother's state with drink and boyfriends (hence Sasha is in care) but it is not dwelt on. It also discusses how traumatised children can become emotionally frozen, which might need explaining to a sheltered 9-14 year old. Despite the absence of all the usual watch points this book with its social and emotional realismhas a teenage feel that will keep its appeal right to the top of our age group. There is nothing pink and frilly about Sasha and she could easily have been a boy. With the right build up ('pony books don't have to be for girls') boys should enjoy this book too.
Having said all that this book does put you through the emotional wringer with Sasha, and I did need a tissue at the end.
Summary: very well drawn characters, flawed but plausible, and some wonderfully drawn horses. A great combination of social realism and pony book. Should be fine with the full range of our age group provided fostering /childhood behavioural problems are explained to the sheltered. If I was still teaching I'd be ordering a full class set for top sets in KS3. No cheap thrills or easy excitement just superb writing. One of my books of the year!