I’m pretty sure I’m already on record here somewhere talking about how much I love a pony story – in fact I read a bunch of horsey middlegrade last year (and raved about them here), including Jackie Merchant’s first book – The Promise Horse. I ADORED The Promise Horse and was thrilled to see Jackie had a new novel coming out – The Pony Question. I read this one in a single sitting last week, and it gave me all the feelings!
Essie doesn’t believe in signs or wishing on stars. She likes facts, and the fact is she’s left her love of horses firmly in the past. She doesn’t want a new horse and she certainly doesn’t need one, not with the price she’d have to pay. That’s a line she just won’t cross. But the universe has other ideas. Essie may not need a pony, but there’s one that needs her. And taking on a pony without a past brings a lot of unanswered questions. In searching for answers Essie must decide if forgiving the past is her only way forward.
So, like I said, I read this in a single sitting. I didn’t mean to, it’s just that I felt completely drawn into the story right from the start (I was already crying by page 50) and I just had to know what happened next!
In The Pony Question, Jackie introduces us to some wonderful characters. I absolutely fell in love with both Essie and her mum – and the relationship between them was wonderful. There was a real found family/community feeling with Essie and her mum’s friends and family – I loved how they looked out for and helped each other, and one of my favourite scenes was when everyone came over for a breakfast cook up.
Essie’s relationship with her dad – and his fiance – was a bit more complicated, and I really appreciated the way that there were shades of grey to it. While Essie isn’t really getting the support she would like from her dad, I liked that he wasn’t painted as a total villain (and the same for his fiance). I think it is really important for middlegrade fiction to show that adults aren’t infallible, that we can be uncertain, and are doing our best, and sometimes make mistakes. I thought it was wonderful that there was some resolution with Essie’s dad, and that she was reassured that he loved her and was proud of her.
Another relationship aspect I really appreciated was that Essie’s closest friend (aside from her mum) in the book is a boy, but there isn’t even the tiniest hint of romance between them. I think it’s really important to have platonic relationships between boys and girls in books for young people (well, in all books, really!) so I really loved this.
I felt like the actual horse bits were less central to the story in this one than in The Promise Horse, but I loved the bits we did get to see. I found the first introduction to Essie’s new horse really moving – when we first meet the mare she has been badly neglected and it was just so sad!
Overall I thought this was a delight – it’s such a warm and uplifting and hopeful story, and it was just a pleasure to be part of Essie’s world for a little while.
I definitely recommend this one for people looking for a sweet family story about second chances and finding your way.
The Pony Question by Jackie Merchant
Out now from Walker Books.
Source: Free copy sent to me by Walker Books (thank you!). All views are my own.
Category: Australian contemporary middlegrade fiction
Format: Paperback (256 pages)
Australian RRP: $16.99