Saturday, 11 January 2014

Review: Margi McAllister – A Home for Teasel

This is that rare thing: a pony book which doesn’t go entirely as you think it will. To be more accurate, the book does follow the usual pony book trope of girl with no pony finding one, but it does take some interesting and unexpected detours on the way.

Gwen adores ponies. She’s part of a large family, and she seems to have settled into position as the butt of her elder sister’s jokes. She’s the child who’s defined by what she’s not: she’s not the pretty, witty one, or a lively twin. She’s Gwen, who likes horses, and none of the rest of them do. Margi McAllister does a fine job of portraying the lot of a child who feels herself an outsider in her own family.



Fortunately for Gwen, salvation is at hand. Gwen is determined to earn enough to buy her own pony, and she starts going on shopping trips for an elderly lady. Gwen has no idea, when she takes the job on, that Mrs Tilney has a pony. Not only that, Mrs Tilney is starting to find it difficult to care for Teasel, and is only too pleased to have help. Gwen is utterly enraptured. Her family, still firmly stuck in the horse people are daft camp, carry on belittling Gwen. The author manages to convey just how families draw lines in the sand and don’t even realise they have done so. Gwen, naturally enough, finds what she needs outside the family, until Mrs Tilney has a stroke, and her well-meaning nephew and his wife arrive to take over.

Not only does no one listen to Gwen (because she is a child, and adults must know better), no one listens to Teasel either. Teasel must do what’s best: go to a livery stable, and fit in with the way equine life is organised nowadays. The remainder of the story shows Gwen finding her voice, and understanding more about herself, those around her, and of course Teasel.  Gwen is not a one dimensional heroine: we see that there are other ways of looking at the behaviour of the adults in the book other than through Gwen’s eyes. It’s easy for a pony book to concentrate on its heroine, and her point of view, to the exclusion of all other things, but this book doesn’t do that. 

Not only that, the author allows the pony to have a genuine existence of her own, with her own thoughts and feelings, and at the end, a choice in what she does. For Teasel is a wild pony, brought from the Welsh mountains, and it’s there she heads when things go wrong at the livery stables she’s been sent to. (Fortunately the livery stable is near to the mountains, and not in Kent, which would have been more problematic).

A Home for Teasel is an impressive book. It's an interesting exploration of family dynamics, and the way we pigeonhole the humans and animals we meet, and find it difficult when those we love refuse to fit into the roles we've assigned for them.
  
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Margi McAllister: A Home for Teasel
Scholastic, 2013, £5.99

Age of main character: unsure - possibly 12/13

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