Review: Amanda Wills – The Lost Pony of Riverdale

The book is free this weekend ((1-2 February 2014), and there's a link here.

Poppy McKeever is a lucky girl: she and her family are moving out of London to the country, Dartmoor, to be precise, and a pony comes with the new house. It all sounds like the pony fantasy come true, but that’s very far from the case. Poppy’s mother died when she was little, saving her after she ran out into the road, and her father’s married again. Her stepmother Caroline, seems lovely: endlessly kind and patient, but Poppy has never forgiven Caroline for not being her mother, and for having her little brother, Charlie, whom she’s convinced Caroline loves more than her. The problem is that Poppy’s thought this way for so long; her thought patterns are so much part of her, that she finds it almost impossible to think any other way.

How Poppy finds her way through to understanding what her stepmother’s really like, and that there’s a real person behind what Poppy’s constructed, is the central point of this novel. Caroline has given up a lot to move out to the country to make a better life for the children, and she’s on her own because Poppy’s father is a BBC reporter, and he’s away a lot. It’s an enormous strain, and she buckles under it. That is my one niggle with the book: Caroline's depression is portrayed realistically, and she does come out of it, but that's the thing. I know about being depressed, and sadly, not just though my own experience. I wish it was as it is in this book: that a few things start to go right, and the depression is well, over, but it's not. I wish, more than anything I can think of, actually, that it was like that. I suppose actually that the long and complicated trawl through the mental health services, the slog to get help, the desperation and the sheer bloody awfulness of the whole thing are not the stuff of which cheerful children's books are made. 

But still, it's brave of a pony book to feature it, and I certainly don't wish on even a fictional character chronic clinical depression.

There are several things that help Poppy find her way: she makes friends with the woman who used to own their house, Tory Wickens, and who left them the pony (though as it turns out, it’s a donkey). Together with her brother, she explores Dartmoor. Charlie’s convinced there are big cats loose on the moor, and while they’re searching, they find a pony who doesn’t fit in with the wild Dartmoors: a grey Connemara. He used to belong to Tory’s grand daughter, but after tragedy hit the family, the pony was sold. He got loose onto the moor, and Tory has helped him, every year, to evade the annual round up which would return him to his last, utterly unsuitable, owner.

It’s nearly time for the round up, and Poppy and Charlie need to find Cloud and hide him. But it all goes horribly wrong and the two children are left on their own, lost in the fog on the moor.

For a pony book, there’s not a lot of actual pony in this: but then there can’t really be when the whole point of the story is that the pony is loose on Dartmoor and you can’t catch it. I don’t think that’s a weakness of the book though: the best pony stories are driven by the characters of the humans in them, and this one is. I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

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Amanda Wills: The Lost Pony of Riverdale
Kindle, £1.99
No physical edition, as yet

Age of main character: 11
Themes: grief, step parents


Cally said…
I disagree somewhat about the points made about depression: it CAN lift quite quickly in my experience, and anyway, who knows what lies ahead in the Riverdale series? Caroline may just have been suffering from the trauma of uprooting to a place and a lifestyle that was completely foreign to her, with her husband away and a passive aggressive teenage girl to try and care for- that'd make anyone feel a bit blue. Also Poppy loved her half brother dearly.
I do agree it is great to see these themes in children's books and it is a really great read, and would recommend it to anyone- child or adult.
Jane Badger said…
Our experiences have obviously been different, but I am really glad that yours was. It gives me hope.

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