Sheena Wilkinson - Grounded
Little Island, 2012, £8.99
In an interview after her first book, Taking Flight, was published, Sheena Wilkinson said "Maybe I got the whole pony story thing out of my system with Taking Flight." Fortunately not, as the sequel, Grounded, has now been published. Taking Flight was the story of two cousins; spoiled princess Vicky and out of control Declan. At the end of Taking Flight, Declan has discovered his love for horses, and despite his best attempts to ruin things for himself, has the offer of a job with the owner of the livery stables where Vicky's show jumper Flight is stabled. It looks as if everything is set fair for pony book success - Declan the show jumper; Declan the eventer.... an inspiring story of a tough working class boy made good.
And so it is as the sequel, Grounded, opens. Declan is jumping Flight at the biggest show he's ever taken part in. They win. Declan sees the owner of a big stable approaching him: for a moment he thinks he's to be offered a job, but no. Vicky has sold Flight to him. That's the first blow. But Declan manages to find a new job in a German jumping stable: it will mean starting at the bottom, but it's a foot in the door. And then the major blow falls: Declan's girlfriend Seaneen is pregnant.
At once, Declan's world is rocked to its core. At least his mother, now sober, is still around, but Declan, not out of his teens himself, has to make some important decisions, very fast indeed. Declan is not used to asking for help: it's something he's extraordinarily bad at, and something which alienates him from those who love him and want to help. Although he decides to stay with Seaneen, his heart is by no means in it, and his problems have only just begun.
Grounded is an extraordinary story, and utterly believable. How Declan deals with the latest turn his life has taken kept me turning the pages in a single-minded pursuit to the end. Sheena Wilkinson handles her themes well; and they are major ones: teenage pregnancy, addiction and alienation. We never lose sympathy for Declan or Seaneen, or the new characters who appear in this story: Cian, a desperate young addict and Folly, the horribly neglected horse Declan takes on. Sheena Wilkinson resists any attempt to take her novel down the thoroughly well-trodden lines of the pony novel: Folly's rehabilitation is no fairytale. Declan gets it wrong. Have a feeling for horses he might do, but not where Folly is concerned. He gets is just as wrong with everyone else in his life, and there is a real sense he might lose everything.
I hope there will be a sequel: Declan seems to have taken on a life of his own now; Vicky has become a minor character, off to university and living a conventional life. Grounded is dedicated to Sheena Wilkinson's sister, Rhona, "who wanted to know what happened next, and made me find out." Get nagging, Rhona.
My review of Taking Flight
My website page on Sheena Wilkinson