I’m not sure whether it’s the norm to write reviews when you haven’t yet finished the book, but often I find myself most attuned to its rhythms when I am not quite done. Besides, this novel is one of those that you put off ending because you just can’t bear to leave its world. So I write this review before I deliciously turn the pages on the last chapter.
A debut novel from Anton DiSclafani, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is set in 1930 during the Great Depression of America. The root of the multi-layered novel is about a heartbreaking family scandal, set in a very specific time in American history and nestled in a very unusual environment – a prestigious riding camp for girls high in the awe-striking Blue Ridge Mountains in the Southern States of America.
Thea Atwell is an alluring young girl from a wealthy Florida family who made their money in citrus farming, sent away to Yonahlossee because of her part in a family scandal. Thea takes her place in the beautiful school populated with Southern Debutantes, day-long horse riding, dinner bells and handsome headmasters – where there is a new order to her life. Yonahlossee on the surface seems like paradise to the reader, but there is an unsettling dichotomy of uncertainty and guilt that bubbles under Thea’s surface from her past.
The privileged girls live in a bubble of sorts, distanced from what is going on in the outside world, with maids to clear up after them and balls to attend, but fractures and cracks begin to seep in as once wealthy families begin to lose everything.
The writing ambles provocatively between Thea’s home in Florida and school, the narrative powerfully unfurling the true story behind her expulsion from her family. And there is a dangerous languidness to Thea’s awareness of the scandal, revealed to us in tandem as she grows and grapples with her responsibility for the events that led her here.
There could almost be something Malory Towers- esque and wholesome about the book albeit for the very specific and real writing style - it is one of the most vivid and surprising novels I have read and despite its chick-lit title, is far from it.
Wholly immersive, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a transporting page-turner and proves that simple ideas are the best.
Published by Headline, It is available to buy on the 6th of June.