Pick of the Week: "The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls" by Anton DiSclafani
In the midst of the Great Depression, wealthy Southern families still sent their daughters to North Carolina's Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls -- which was not so much a camp as a finishing school, designed to create proper Southern ladies who would be able to find the right sorts of husbands. Into this environment comes passionate, headstrong Thea Atwell, a 15-year-old from Florida who has spent her life isolated with her parents and twin brother in their comfortable home surrounded by orange groves. She's been thrown out of the house for a horrible act she's committed -- but the reader doesn't know what that is until well into the book. This keeps the momentum building in an otherwise dreamy story. Told in first person, it weaves seamlessly back and forth between the actions unfolding at the camp and Thea's previous life at home in Florida.
It's a beautiful coming-of-age tale, as Thea learns painful lessons about family, sex, friendship, money, and social class, all set against the picturesque backdrop of the Blue Ridge mountains. I loved DiStefani's detailed descriptions of the riding camp; it brought me back to my own first anxious days at summer camp, getting to know my cabinmates, figuring out whom to be friends with, whom to avoid. And it will remind everyone of the painful choices and the unexpected joys of adolescence. This is a wonderful read!