Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (DiSclafani)

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
Anton DiSclafani, 2013
Penguin Group USA
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781594486401



Summary
A lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls’-school rituals, set in the 1930s South

It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes.

High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—N/A
Where—Northern Florida, USA
Education—B.A., Emory University; M.F.A.,
   Washington University
Currently—lives in St. Louis, Missouri


Anton DiSclafani grew up in northern Florida, where she rode horses, competing nationally. She graduated from Emory University, and received her MFA from Washington University. She currently lives in Saint Louis, where she teaches creative writing at Washington University. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
There are echoes of A Separate Peace…as well as of Curtis Sittenfeld's more recent boarding school novel, Prep. What makes Yonahlossee emotionally engaging in its own right—this summer's first romantic page turner—is Ms. DiSclafani's sure-footed sense of narrative and place, and her decision to portray her heroine, Thea Atwell, in all her complexity: fierce, passionate, strong-willed, but also selfish, judgmental and self-destructive. By setting the novel in 1930, as America teeters on a financial cliff, and the days of debutante balls and fancy-dress parties seem numbered, Ms. DiSclafani has tried to situate the rarefied world her characters inhabit in a real-life context, even as she gives the reader some well-observed glimpses of the lifestyles of the rich and not so famous.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


Lush.... [T]he tensions, jealousies and triumphs are deftly blended to vividly portray the coming of age of a gathering of girls at a particular time in a particular place.
New York Daily News


DiSclafani is an insanely talented writer—her precise period details and lovely descriptions of riding and adolescence have a spellbinding effect.
Entertainment Weekly


DiSclafani's writing is smart and sexy, and her characters are flawed and worth knowing as they navigate through life and don't always make the wisest decisions.
NPR


The setup for this debut novel is delectable: it’s 1930, the country is tumbling into depression, and 15-year-old Thea has done something bad enough to get her sent from Florida to an elite year-round “camp” in North Carolina.... Thea’s narration feels flattened by history, and the characters she encounters never achieve dimensionality.... Though there are many twists and turns, the prose numbs the pleasure of reading about even the most forbidden of Thea’s trysts.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Engrossing, empathetic, and atmospheric, this debut will resonate with readers as the author eloquently portrays the inevitable missteps in coming of age. Highly recommended.
Library Journal


(Starred review.) Set in the 1930s, full of alluring descriptions, and featuring a headstrong lead character, this is a literary novel that is also full of scandal, sex, and secrets.... [Readers] will be held in thrall by the world so vividly and sensually rendered here in a novel that is as sophisticated in its writing as it is in its themes.
Booklist


(Starred review.) DiSclafani's debut chronicles a teenager's life-changing year at an elite boarding school in the North Carolina mountains. Thea arrives at the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, ... sent away from her home in central Florida for an initially mysterious offense.... In elegant prose that evokes the cadences of a vanished epoch, DiSclafani unfolds at a leisurely pace the twin narratives of Thea's odyssey at school and the charged relationship with her cousin Georgie.... An unusually accomplished and nuanced coming-of-age drama.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. The author moves between the ordered, class-conscious world of Yonahlossee and the dreamlike plantation of Thea's Florida childhood. How do these two landscapes differ physically? What about socially? Is the geography of the place linked to its larger differences? How is Thea herself altered by these differences when she moves from one to the other?

2. Think about the relationship between Thea and Sam. In what ways are they more than siblings? How does their relationship change as they grow up? Would their relationship and its evolution have been different if they were not twins?

3. Thea grows up in a world where her only peers are boys. How does exposure to the world of girls change her? What does she learn from forming relationships with other girls? How do her specific relationships with Sissy and Leona differ? In what ways is Thea a friend to both girls? In what ways does she betray them?

4. Think about the men in Thea's life. What is she looking for in these relationships? What does she find? How is Thea's first romantic relationship different from her second one? Does she see the differences? How are they important to the growth of her character and to the shape of her story? By the end of the book, how has she been changed by these relationships?

5. Horses are deeply important to Thea. It could even be said that she is a different person when she is riding. Why do you think horses change her? What does she learn about herself through riding?

6. Bravery is a theme throughout the book. What does it mean to be brave? Are there times when bravery can be dangerous? How does her bravery help or hurt Thea?

7. Thea's desires are often at odds with what is expected of her. What does Thea desire? How are her desires channeled? Are there any better alternatives?

8. Why do you think the author chose to set her novel during the Depression? In what ways does the Depression figure into the book or affect the characters? Do you think of it served more as historical background or did its constant presence change the way you interpreted the story?

9. Think about the differences between Thea and Sam's family and Georgie's family. How do these differences affect the twins' relationship with their cousin and their parents' relationship with his parents? Does any of this influence Georgie's behavior toward Thea or hers toward him? How does it affect the adults' responses to what happens later?

10. How much are Thea's parents responsible for what happens to Thea? How much are they responsible for the nature of her relationship with Sam when they were children and then later as teens and adults? What do you think they could or should have done differently?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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