anton disclafani’s first novel is “the yonahlossee riding camp for girls.” it’s an odd title, one that catches your attention immediately. the ingredients of the book sound as though they’ve been cherry-picked from two popular genres: historical romance, and YA fiction. happily, these are two of my favorite genres, and i’m happy to say that disclafani delivered on both fronts.
yonahlossee is set at an elite boarding school in the 1930s – a time when american was teetering on a financial cliff; many had already gone overboard – a place where girls are plucked from their wealthy, debunate-style upbringings and shipped away to the blue ridge mountains of north carolina.
our heroine is thea atwell, a precocious, beautiful teenage girl who has been banished from her idyllic florida home after committing what we only know to be an atrocious sin. so atrocious, in fact, that her family, including her twin brother sam, refuse to speak with her. thea is a fierce, passionate young woman, but also selfish, judgmental, and as we soon learn, self-destructive.
home schooled by her father, the only doctor around for miles, thea has grown up roaming the 1,000 or so acres of her family’s florida farm with her brother, sam, and her pony, sasi. their only other friend? a slightly older cousin, georgie, who visits the farm with his mother from time to time. uprooted from all that she knows, thea isn’t eager to join the girls at yonahlossee, but she soon finds her place at the school. her classmates are of another class; though thea has grown up wealthy, her florida wealth is nothing compared to that of those who come from up north.
disclafani’s smooth, fluid characterization of the other girls at the camp neatly fills the boarding school stereotypes: the popular girl, the odd girl out, the nosy one, the spoilt child…but they do so with grace. as a reader, you find yourself aligning with a girl or two – the one closest to your own character, presumably. none of the girls are perfect, all have their faults, and as such, they become interesting, if not exactly likable, characters.
as thea begins to find herself at yonahlossee, she loses herself too – in the arms of an older man at the school. her precociousness, her passion, her lust for life – all of these work against her, as disclafani spins a romantic page-turner that, while veering into soap opera territory ever so often, finds itself squarely in the realm of beautiful, perfect, literary fiction.
a must read, i promise. perfect for book club, or trips to the beach, yonahlossee is a can’t miss.