written by Lapo Melzi
published by Irbis Books
Why did I pick this book: I was asked by the author to review this book. (I received a copy of this book for review purposes.)
Did I enjoy this book: Pretty much.
I should probably start with a disclaimer. I’m not really a YA fan. I’m typically not the EFC reviewer for this type of book, so I’m taking my best shot here.
What I liked: Eleven year old main character Jamie really figures out who he is and who he isn’t and ultimately stays true to himself. That’s a good message for kids his age because they really are trying to figure out the world and where they fit in.
I loved his relationship with his horse. I think animals make great companions. Acorn, Jamie’s horse and best friend, discovers the importance of trust and loyalty throughout this story.
It’s poignant. Jamie’s a bit of an outcast with his peers. Readers of any age can relate to those young, tender feelings and fragile relationships.
What I didn’t like: No matter how hard I tried to see this story from a young person’s perspective, I couldn’t silence the inner teacher in me who took offense to the depiction of Mrs. Ambrose, Jamie’s teacher. She is cruel and abusive to the point of being extreme and unbelievable. Seriously, I’ve read descriptions of serial rapist and sadistic killers who were more charming and lovable than this poor teacher. It was just too over the top for me.
So fair warning to future authors: If you send me a book to review I suggest it not include a bunch of badmouthing on teachers. That just pisses me off.
(Sorry. I had to get that outta my system)
Would I recommend it: Yes, I think young readers will enjoy this story. They’ll probably swear their teacher is as mean as Mrs. Ambrose.
Will I read it again: No.
About the book – from Goodreads: There’s nothing easy about being an eleven year old boy, especially for Jamie. As he takes the unsteady steps into adolescence, his days of knowing who his friends are and trusting the adults in his life are numbered. The only thing Jamie can really count on in this changing world is the love of his best friend, a horse named Acorn. Jamie and Acorn’s friendship has a magic that comes once in a lifetime—but the bullies around them want to rip that to shreds. Can their kindred connection survive as Jamie strives to carve out his identity?
Now it was time to do justice to his brilliant idea. He reached the edge of the paddock and stopped in front of a trough filled with water and dead leaves that lay in the shade of tall black locust trees.
He cast a quick glance back and his wild, ash-brown hair swung back with him. Seeing Acorn hadn’t spotted him, he sat down on the brim of the trough. He hesitated a second, then he propped himself up and sank his feet into the water. A chilling stream gushed through the holes in his shoes’ soles and soaked his socks almost instantly. Goose bumps ran from his legs all the way up to his arms and he shivered, breathing quickly—it was just May after all and the trough stood all day in the shade. There was no time to waste on second thoughts. Jamie willed himself to withstand the cold and slowly lowered his body into the trough. He winced as the chilly water licked the whole length of his back, shooting prickling shivers up to his ears, but he didn’t make any sudden movement. He didn’t want to spill any water and give away his whereabouts. His heart was beating fast. It was awesome!
He took two big breaths, pinched his nose shut between his fingers and sank his head underwater, then he pressed his feet and hands against the inner walls of the trough to keep himself from floating up. Inside this shell of wood and water, the calm was eerie, even if the cold was so intense that it felt like entombing yourself in ice. Nevertheless, Jamie felt his mind relax—it was cozy in there. He pondered that perhaps that’s how Acorn had felt in his mom’s belly—apart from the cold, of course. Above him, through the settling water, the tree branches swayed dreamily in the breeze. Cast against the bright sky, they looked like giant feelers carefully searching the air.
Jamie stretched his ears, listening for any signs of Acorn approaching. Holding his breath underwater, still as a statue, he looked like a weird submarine stick-bug ready to pounce. His ash-brown hair fanned out around his face like wild thoughts, while his grass-green eyes gleamed with anticipation. His hiding spot was perfect! Acorn would never think of that. He really wanted to burst into an evil chuckle, but kept himself in check—he didn’t want to blow his cover.
A sliver of froth drifted lazily on the surface of the water. Jamie wondered whether it was Acorn’s saliva or the sheep’s and he realized that he was probably lying in a tub of spit. He grinned, thinking himself daring, even though he knew that most kids at school would likely consider him disgusting. Well, who cared what they thought; they didn’t know anything about adventure. Spit you just washed away, but adventure staid for the rest of your life!
A constricting sensation, as of a belt tightening steadily around his chest, made his head lighter. His lungs started screaming for air, but he was resolved to stay put. He fidgeted at the bottom of the trough, worried that Acorn wouldn’t show up. Where the heck was that knucklehead? What if he didn’t turn up and ruined his awesome ambush?
A wave of fretting panic seized him. Maybe he should have left a string of Menthos leading to the trough. Man! That’s exactly what he should have done! Why hadn’t he thought about that before? Why would Acorn come straight into the paddock? He could easily walk into the school instead. He hadn’t planned this thing properly—that was going to be his downfall!
Dark thoughts of failure clouded his brain as the air in his lungs quickly expired. He reckoned he had no more than a dozen seconds left in him, then he’d have to take a breath or die in his watery tomb. Another five seconds elapsed. It was over…
Presently, a shadow draped across the trough. The temperature dropped a couple of degrees. Jamie wondered how on Earth he could feel colder than he already was, but apparently he could. The shadow moved in a little closer. He saw the darkness break up at the fringes, drawing the rough outline of a mane. Excitement fired through his skin—Acorn had come at last! He let go of his supports and kicked hard toward the surface.
He exploded out of the water in a huge splash, flailing his arms like a madman, roaring, “Raaaaugh!!”
Acorn shied back, flaring his nostrils in shock.
“Got you! I got you!” Jamie taunted. “Spoooky!”
Acorn bared his teeth and snapped at him, outraged.
Jamie plunged his hand into the frigid water and splashed him treacherously.
Acorn let out a grunt and bucked away, kicking and neighing. He shook his head around to show his disapproval for the scandalous treatment.
Jamie watched him with satisfaction, overjoyed by the result of his ambush. Best! Prank! Ever! He jumped out of the trough and romped around the paddock.
With his tail high, Acorn trotted about jerkily, wheeling his head in quick bursts, flaring his nostrils noisily at anything he laid his eyes on, as if purposefully looking for something else to get scared by. It seemed like he was actually enjoying the rush of adrenaline running wild in his veins. Jamie ran beside him, roaring and laughing, his sneakers squeaking and sloshing loudly.
At the ruckus, a few sheep poked their heads out of their shed, while the horses in the stables pricked up their ears, wondering what it was all about.
About the author: Lapo Melzi is a poet, writer and filmmaker. He grew up in a little town in the north of Italy and went on to study writing and filmmaking in New York. He received his MFA from renowned NYU Tisch School of the Arts and now spends his time between the United States and Italy.