cover image THE SNOW PONY


Alison Lester, . . Houghton/Lorraine, $15 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-618-25404-0

As in The Quicksand Pony, picture book author/artist Lester sets her multifaceted second novel on an Australian cattle farm. Resourceful, responsible Dusty Riley loves working alongside her father, a proud, fourth-generation cattle farmer, and her mother, a former showjumping champion who now trains other people's horses. Most of all, Dusty loves the Snow Pony, which she and her father found wild near their mountain property and brought back to their ranch, and which Dusty herself has trained (horse-story enthusiasts will thrill to the classic encounter in which the wild pony, having bucked the experienced adults, permits Dusty to ride her). While Dusty and the Snow Pony triumph at various competitions, the scope of the novel extends beyond horse-mania. A three-year drought drastically reduces the family's income—and dramatically alters Dusty's father, who withdraws into the temporary solace of alcohol. Dusty also copes with outsider status at school and misses her only friend, now at boarding school in Melbourne. Lester braids the various strands of the plot into an exciting conclusion, involving a classmate stranded near the Rileys' mountain property, an accident and a tense ride through a snowstorm on the pony to fetch help. The author alternates between detailed, closely observed scenes and more general narration that chronicles the characters from a distance. The varied focus somewhat slackens the tension but also allows the story to cover more ground. Even if some of the Aussie references are difficult to penetrate, the writing successfully transports readers to an enticingly foreign milieu. Ages 10-14. (Apr.)