What a gorgeous book.
Quiet and unassuming, this book takes you into the mind of Maren Markey, as she re-lives her junior-high and high school years through an old journal she finds and reads as she is preparing to move away from home to college. Equally suitable for a pre-teen, young adult, or adult reader, this book is beautifully written and emotionally-rich: poignant throughout, uplifting in parts, and sad and wrenching in others.
Young Maren is lonely; a child of divorce; caught between the time she shares with her remote and emotionally-unstable father, and her home with the new family recently formed by her mother, her chilly stepfather and his equally chilly daughter (Maren’s step-sister).
Young Maren is bright, articulate, mature and heart-breakingly vulnerable in her journal entries – I swear you forget that you are not reading the words of an actual twelve or thirteen year old – so sincere and authentic is she in her presentation of her life and the things that matter deeply to her. Family/school/friendship challenges, isolation, and her overarching need to be seen and heard for who she really is by someone who loves her, all lead Maren down a path that would be even bleaker, were it not for her close confiding relationship with a remote Aunt and her all encompassing love of animals – in particular, her beloved horses.
Maren’s heart lifts as she comes to depend on her time riding, tacking, walking and just spending time in the gentle presence of horses – at riding schools, summer camps, seeking out anywhere and everywhere horse-centered or horse-themed becomes her young obsession. This passion is incredibly endearing to the reader, and at the same time, it’s not hard to see how such an intensity of focus could end up singling Maren out as an oddity as she grows from a pre-teen into a solitary teenager.
At the same time, Maren’s deep enthusiasm for horses is unbelievably touching, and becomes even more so when she meets “Spirit”, the aptly-named horse who will come to embody her deepest connection, a kind of love that any animal-lover will recognize and instantly relate to.
I wont tell you how it ends (no spoilers here) but let me just say that reading Maren’s slow and painful journey to self-acceptance, love, and finally young adulthood, had me reeling emotionally, and ultimately, I left these pages a little wiser, and with my own spirit soaring.
A big thank you to the author for an advance review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts presented are my own.