Well, I picked a good one to start with - okay, I admit it, I read the children's picture books first, but they're going out again as Christmas presents, so that doesn't really count, does it?
Anyway, I was glad I started with Francie's story. I'm not a hunter/jumper rider in training, and I've never shown on an elite level or out of a big barn with any kind of trainer, let alone a world-class one, but in college I had friends who did. Their tales of what went on behind the scenes at shows and in the training barns would curl your hair. And judging by the attention to little horse-y details here, I think the author not only did her homework, but paid her dues. And she definitely knows how to tell a good story.
If you have a teenage girl who's into horses, this is a highly recommended read.
The Perfect Distance by Kim Ablon Whitney
Francie Martinez is almost 18, a senior in high school, and she's torn. It's her last competition year as a junior; her last chance to win the Maclay Finals, THE competition of the jumping world for juniors. She's caught between her own desire to be a professional rider, and the father, who she loves, and who wants nothing more for her than to go on to a good college. Complicating the situation is her position as a lowly groom in the barn of one of the best trainers in the country. She's works for her lessons, and in the strict hierarchy of the show barn, as a less than perfect rider who's not quite good enough to win consistently, thus bringing Rob (the trainer) the prestige he needs, Francie gets the short end of the horse stick, and less of Rob's attention than she'd like. When a new boy, and some new social opportunities arise, Francie has to decide what's important and who to trust.If I had to pick a fault with this book, the portrayal of Francie's relationship with her father isn't as strong as it might have been. But given how dysfunctional the other families are portrayed as being.... When all's said and done, it's Francie and the competitive show world that receive the focus here.
I loved this book! Whitney's writing style is descriptive and engaging, and Francie's an appealing heroine with real issues. The level of detail Whitney brings shows both her love for and knowledge of the sport. At bottom, the book offers an enjoyable peek into the work of the elite and the wanna-be elite - it isn't always pretty, but that doesn't make the story ring any less true.