cover image Quicksand Pony

Quicksand Pony

Alison Lester. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $15 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-395-93749-5

""The moon was full the night they disappeared."" This hushed, cryptic opening sets up readers for disappointment in this disjointed tale told through several viewpoints. The first perspective is from a woman fleeing with a baby by boat under cover of darkness, ""to the hidden valley she remembered from so long ago."" Almost nine years have passed in the next chapter, when Lester (Tess Snaps Snakes) introduces Biddy, who lives on a sheep and cattle farm with her parents and grandfather. Next, Biddy's best friend (who doesn't appear again until near the end of the book) reveals a family ""secret"" about her aunt Joycie, a young grieving widow who ran away from home and allegedly drowned with her infant son, Joe. Eventually the threads of the story join during a cattle drive on the headland when Biddy's horse, Bella, gets trapped in quicksand and Joe saves the animal. Intermittently, the author offers a rather sluggish account of how Joycie and Joe subsist in the wild, undetected, for years (sleeping in a cave, spearing fish and occasionally snatching essentials from a ranger's supplies). Though the author treats readers to some lyrical passages, she never fully develops the relationships between Biddy and her horse, or Joycie and Joe, so that the dramatic scene when Biddy abandons Bella to the quicksand doesn't have much impact. The vague time lapses between chapters from different characters' perspectives exacerbate the problem. Unfortunately, this novel does not succeed either as fully realized horse story or mystery. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)