Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The horsey set

I've been on a horse once in my life. During those "horse-y" years (10 to 13?), I tried to be horse-y -- one of the books I remember possessing (and re-reading) was The American Girl Book of Horse Stories. (Yikes! nostalgia flashback.) [Note: the above American Girl is not the current American Girl -- which is, evidently, "a premiere lifestyle brand."] But I was never really horsey -- probably because they were too big and dirty (I don't think we even had a dog in my family at that point). Patricia Reilly Giff's Wild Girl is for the truly horsey girls (if you couldn't tell from the cover).

Wild Girl is about Lidie, who is 12 years old and is just about to get on an airplane and fly to New York to live with her father and older brother. They moved from the family's farm in Brazil five years earlier after the death of Lidie's mother. Lidie takes one last exhilirating ride on the neighbor's horse before she's off to worlds unknown. When she arrives in frigid New York, her father and brother seem not to know her -- they give her a pink scarf with kitties on it, and have decorated her room with Disney princesses; they are remembering the seven year old they left behind. Neither knows what a great horsewoman she has become. To add insult to injury, Lidie's English isn't so good, and her first days at school are humiliating. She wishes she were back in Brazil.

Wild Girl was born on a farm in the south, but all too soon she is separated from her mother, forced into a trailer and shipped to Lidie's father's employer's stables in New York. She's understandably irritable, and presents a danger to the humans who want to ride her. Yet Lidie -- whose mother called her Wild Girl -- feels a kinship with the horse; slowly the two girls come together in their shared feeling of displacement. It's a slim novel, but everything that needs to be in there is there and it deeply satisfies.

The reader is Justine Eyre. She's a very experienced narrator and she reads this with emotion and compassion for Lidie and Wild Girl. She knows how to read dialog and varies her reading to keep it interesting. Part of this novel is Wild Girl's story -- in the third person (unlike the dog story of a few weeks ago) -- and Eyre reads this with appropriate neutrality. She has a most unusual speaking voice -- it's kind of low and soft, very warm and pleasant to listen to. But she speaks very precisely; all the final consonants are carefully pronounced, plus she has overly rounded vowel sounds that I might call affected. It's not ugly to listen to, just slightly distracting. Along the lines of ... why is she speaking that way?

In Wild Girl, she's chosen to give nearly all the characters (who are Brazilians) a slightly inflected accent. But, I heard them speak with that accent only when they are actually speaking English. When their conversations are in Portuguese, the story's English is straightforward. It's little tricky to listen to, in part because occasionally Eyre would get confused and not make the transition. But it could be that I was confused -- her precise "normal" accent sounds foreign enough that I might be mistaking it for the Portuguese-inflected speech.

Ultimately it's a quibble; I enjoyed listening to Eyre read this satisfying story -- one for the horsey girl in all of us.

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