By all appearances, Thea Atwell lives a charmed life. A child of Emathla, Florida, “a stone’s throw” from Gainesville, she rides horses and explores the lush land with her cousin and twin brother, insulated from the Great Depression by her family’s citrus fortune.
But in July of 1930, at age 15, Thea is sent to a year-round camp for girls in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an idyllic enclave where Southern young women go to become ladies. Because as the headmistress says, “Becoming a lady is not simply a thing which happens, like magic . . . becoming a lady is a lesson you must learn.” Turns out Thea has done something very bad, and the camp—far away from Florida—is her punishment.
Sensual, lush and surprising, this debut set in the North Carolina mountains is a story to savor.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Anton DiSclafani’s sensual debut novel, shifts back and forth from Emathla to North Carolina, building toward the “series of events” that leads to Thea’s banishment. The story hinges on this mysterious transgression, something so terrible that the Atwells do not send for Thea at Christmas or visit when she falls ill at camp. In spite of this, the headstrong young woman is able to settle into life at Yonahlossee, where she quickly makes a best friend and establishes herself as a top equestrienne. However, home is never far from her mind, even when Thea has grown to like her world of “horses and girls, girls and horses.” Readers who have experienced the joy of riding—the adrenaline of fearless jumping, the pleasure of grooming, the comfort of getting to know a horse—will appreciate the scenes of Thea with her animal.
DiSclafani unspools the drama slowly and seductively, tempting the reader with ominous letters from Florida and other hints from Thea’s past. This pace allows the author to dreamily revel in lovely settings—the picturesque camp in the mountains or the wilds of the Atwells’ land in Emathla—but at times the plot feels languid. Still, patient readers will be rewarded with a passionate climax. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a story to savor in the heat of summer.