The Georges and the Jewels

Jane Smiley, Author , illus. by Elaine Clayton. Knopf $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-86227-4

Pulitzer Prize–winner Smiley's first novel for young readers is a lyrical meditation on horses, families and the vicissitudes of peer relationships among girls. Twelve-year-old Abby lives on a California horse farm with her evangelical parents. It is the mid-1960s, and references to Dusty Springfield records and portable hi-fis contrast with the pastoral setting, where the struggle is mainly between Abby and “Ornery George,” one of the gelding horses (all the horses are named George or Jewel by Abby's father to eschew unnecessary attachments). A wise and kindly horse trainer eventually teaches Abby how to temper Ornery George, paralleling the nuanced lessons she learns about her relationship with her father, his fraught dealings with Abby's older brother, Danny, as well as the bullying by the “Big Four” girls at school. As might be expected from the skilled hands of Smiley (A Thousand Acres ), there are additional synchronous story lines, such as the ways an unexpected and spirited colt named Jack becomes accepted into the human and horse families. Many will find it difficult to say goodbye to Abby, Jack and especially to Ornery George. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 07/20/2009
Release date: 09/01/2009
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