Sarah McGrath, executive editor of Riverhead Books, who acquired Anton DiSclafani’s debut novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (June) from agent Dorian Karchmar at William Morris Endeavor, promises, “You truly don’t have to be a horse person to fall in love with this book, but there’s no denying the added sense of strength, beauty, and foreboding those animals bring to the story.”

DiSclafani, 31, who teaches writing at Washington University in St. Louis, is clearly a horse person, though. “I spent my high school years working at barns—I was what’s called a ‘working student,’ which means that I was an apprentice to trainers. Along with other working students and stable workers I’d do all the many, many chores that horses require—cleaning stalls, feeding, turning out, grooming, cleaning tack, etc.—and in exchange the trainer at the barn would teach me, and I could watch her ride.”

With a 150,000-copy announced first printing, her debut centers on a 15-year-old young woman exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes in the 1930s because of a family tragedy. The story is “entirely fictional,” she says, but the locales depicted are based on the North Carolina area where the author’s family had a cabin. DiSclafani was inspired by other books about boarding schools—including Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep (Random House, 2005) and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (Knopf, 1992), as well as by a simple question. She relates, “What I loved about the mountains in North Carolina—and still love—are their austere beauty, their unchanging enormity. And so the idea for the book started with place: what would it feel like, at 15 years old, to see mountains like that for the first time?”