The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls, Anton DiSclafani, Riverhead Books, 2013, 388 pp
I read this because it is about the sexual awakening of a teenage girl, something I am teaching myself to write about. DiSclafani writes about that, and so much more, very well.
Thea Atwell was raised along with her twin brother in virtual isolation. It is the 1930s, the Depression has hit, and the Atwell family lives far from any major town on a plot of land in Florida. The family has money, the father is a doctor, the children are home-schooled, and the mother loves her house and gardens. The only people they see are the family of the father's brother who has one son.
Thea loves horses and rides her own horse everyday. When she is discovered messing around with her cousin, she is banished from home by her parents. They send her to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls in Georgia where she is abandoned by them at the age of 15. No visits, even when she gets dangerously ill, only letters now and then.
This novel is sad, dreamy, and atmospheric. I loved the writing and the excellent capturing of that time of life when a girl doesn't know enough about life to understand what is happening to her. Thea wants whatever she wants strongly and fearlessly, so of course she suffers mightily. She learns the perils of wanting but she turns her misfortunes to her own advantage as she processes the terrible hurt her family has laid upon her.
Most of all, I admired the author's admission of how strong the sexual desire of a teen girl can be. She takes up the subject where Judy Blume left it in the 1970s.
All mothers of teenage girls would do well to read this novel. Whether we went through our teens easily or tortured, we don't always remember it well and mothers will always worry for their daughters. There have to be ways to deal with these things that are helpful, healthy, and give a young girl the support and understanding she needs. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a good example of how not to handle it but also an example of a girl with a strong sexual appetite who figures it out for herself.
I think Simone de Beauvoir would have loved this novel.
(The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)