cover image Paint the Wind

Paint the Wind

Pam Munoz Ryan, . . Scholastic, $16.99 (327pp) ISBN 978-0-439-87362-8

An overprotected orphan, an imperious guardian who dies suddenly, a tender reunion with long-lost rustic relatives—Ryan (Esperanza Rising ) opens her tween crowd-pleaser with tried-and-true material, and follows with even more of a sure thing, a horse story. The author gets the romance just right, from 11-year-old heroine Maya’s aching desire to learn about her long-dead mother and fit into her mother’s family, to Maya’s instant connection with the horses raised and trained by her great-aunt Vi. Details surrounding the care and riding of horses are both authentic and copious. Accordingly, readers aren’t likely to mind either the clichéd characters or gaps in plausibility. Nor will they blink as Ryan interweaves the narrative with segments told from the perspective of a wild mare named Artemisia (after, says Vi, the 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi): “She draped her neck over his withers, reassuring herself that [her colt] wasn’t going anywhere with a band of bachelor stallions.” When Maya learns that Artemisia was once her mother’s horse, a pairing seems inevitable; Ryan exploits it for maximum effect as the centerpiece of an attenuated survival sequence that involves an earthquake, broken bones, near-starvation, bareback riding and, of course, a bond between wild horse and child. The overstuffed quality of the plot may seem like a good thing to the target audience—adventure plus horses trumps realism anytime. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)