Friday, April 08, 2011

Smiley's The Georges and the Jewels is warm and wise

Book 37:  The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley

I shouldn't be surprised that The Georges and the Jewels, a young adult novel by Jane Smiley, is a wonderful book.  Smiley is a terrific writer as she has demonstrated in the past with such reward-winning efforts as A Thousand Acres.

Yet, I wasn't prepared for just how much I liked this book, which is warm and tender and wise. It's the story of Abby Lovitt, a seventh-grade girl living with her parents on a California horse ranch.

Abby helps her father train the horses. The male horses are all called George and the females Jewel so that no one, especially Abby, becomes overly attached to the horses, which are quickly trained and sold. Abby's role is important because one of her father's sales tactics is to assure prospective buyers that even a little girl can ride this horse.

Smiley weaves together a complex story line. There are complications at home. Abby's parents are born again Christians and her father's intransigence has led Abby's 16-year-old brother to leave home. At school, another girl is competing for the favors of Abby's one friend and a clique of four girls also threatens her happiness.

Those stories may prove compelling to Smiley's younger readers, but it is the story lines -- and there are several -- involving horses that elevate this novel.  One of the story lines involves Ornery George, a horse that Abby declines to ride bringing her in conflict with her father, and another concerns the unexpected birth of a colt whose mothers dies soon after its birth.

Late in the novel a knowledgeable ranch hand, Jem Jarrow, strolls onto the scene.  Jem, whose approach to horse training differs greatly from Abby's father, becomes Abby's mentor and friend. The scenes involving these two, Ornery George and the colt, are evocative. A horse person, Smiley brings all her power and passion as a writer to these scenes.

My daughter, a fan of the genre, has taught me not to dismiss books merely because they have the young adult label.  With The Georges and the Jewels and, earlier this year, Mockingbird, I can only agree that this is a genre discriminating adult readers should not overlook. It is no coincidence that the genre has produced two of the finest books I have read in 2011.

Book 38: The Hangman by Louise Penny

At 87 pages, The Hangman by Louise Penny could be considered a short novella or a long short story.

Either way, it's a quick reader. Penny wrote The Hangman for Good Reads, a literacy program funded by the Canadian government.

The Hangman is a good introduction to Penny's Gamache series, although it is so brief that the full joy of a rousing Three Pines mystery is missing here.  Still, fans of the series will want to read the book, which serves as a tasty appetizer before the next Penny novel.

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