The Language of Hoofbeats (by Catherine Ryan Hyde)

I’ve only read a couple of books by Catherine Ryan Hyde, but enjoyed them both, so when Amazon recommended this to me I checked a few of the reviews, and then put it on my wishlist. I was very pleased to be given it last Christmas.

‘The Language of Hoofbeats’, based in California, is told from two different viewpoints. The main one is Jackie, a foster-mother who, at the start of the book, is travelling with her family to a new home; alternative chapters are narrated by Clem, a cantankerous elderly woman, who lives over the road.

It’s an unusual set-up for a book, in that Jackie is married to another woman - a vet called Paula. They have an adopted eight-year-old son called Quinn, and two teenage foster-children, one of whom is full of anger and resentment, and inclined to be rude. Clem is married, but her husband is pretty fed up, and it’s clear from the start that there was a terrible tragedy in their lives a few years earlier.

The novel takes place over the summer, and consists of several sub-plots and character development rather than one simple main storyline. Star, the troubled teenager, falls in love with Clem’s horse Comet, which makes Clem very angry. Mando, the other teenager, needs a lot of space on his own and can’t quite trust anybody. Quinn is delightful, but very scared of being left without one of his mothers. Events pull them together in ways they would never have chosen….

The writing is excellent, the characters well-drawn and believable, and the story moves apace. I started reading a chapter or two at bedtime, but by the time I was half-way through I could barely put it down, and then finished the rest in one sitting.

There’s much to ponder in this book: issues of prejudice and stereotypes come up several times, and the point is made more than once that nobody should judge anyone by appearance. Even the less likeable people have their good points.

I was pleased that there was almost no bad language in the book, no violence to speak of - although there were horrors in the past, and nasty situations relevant to some of the foster children, but they were hinted at rather than spelled out. There are no scenes of intimacy beyond hugs and occasional kisses; this is not a love story, other the kind between a girl and a horse, and between parents and children, and the author set the scenes extremely well.

Highly recommended.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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