Monday, 7 September 2015

The Girl Who Rode The Wind by Stacy Gregg: Book Review

An epic, emotional story of two girls and their bond with beloved horses, the action sweeping between Italy during the Second World War and present day.

When Lola’s grandmother Loretta takes her to Siena, Italy, for the summer, Lola learns of her family’s history of heartbreak and adventure, stretching back to the Second World War. In 1945, Loretta’s nickname was ‘The Daredevil’ due to her fearless competing in the town’s famous Palio horse races – until war broke out and led to sadness and loss for Loretta.

Lola jumps at the chance to enter the modern-day Palio on a beautiful horse called Nico – can she win, in honour of her beloved grandmother? And solve a mystery that will bring happiness and hope to Loretta?


Returning to Stacy Gregg's novels is a breath of fresh air for me. I grew up loving her very first series, "Pony Club Secrets" and reading one of her latest novels such as this one, it has opened my eyes again to my love for horses and has sent a deep ache of pain and agony through me - reminding me of how much I miss having the companionship of a gorgeous horse and being upon his back while soaring across the field in an open canter. Stacy has not failed to impress me with her writing skills, even as a children's author I feel like she has done an impeccable job of conjuring up a story of which delves right into the hearts of horse lovers and brings about a new understanding of the history of WW2 while giving horse racing a whole other meaning of competition. Choosing the famous 'Palio' horse race in Italy was a great choice to write about as it not only was the perfect way of describing passion in horse riding and honour, but teaches children the basics of the war with Hitler and the Nazi's, therefore this would be a great read to prepare any child to the age of thirteen for the harsh and brutal reality of History that they teach you at high school. I wish she had of written this book for me five years ago!

Lola reminded me a lot of how I used to be as a kid, a little bit crazy about horses with a talent to cope with a tempered horse well (according to my old best friend's riding instructor when a Mare I was riding had spooked and I was able to stay on while she had a fit and I eventually calmed her down), yet not very popular at school due to having her nose stuck in a book but having the courage to stand up to a bully if need be. However, Lola seemed a little more courageous than what I was; I don't know whether I would have had the will to enter a race like the Palio if I were in her position! One thing I really liked about Lola is that she cared for the horses to no extent - she would rather worry about them and their safety or comfort rather than her own. One quote from the book that really got me thinking about the type of character Lola really was, said, "Was a feather mattress enough to protect a horse if it crashed at a full gallop?". This made me stop for a second and made me realise how caring she was for a twelve year old girl who was about to ride in the Palio in Italy to regain her family's contrada respect and value. I respect this about Lola as she seemingly retrieved that habit from her Nonna and made sure that the horses came first no matter what. Again she showed this later on in the race but I'll leave that for you to find out!

In terms of character development, both Lola and her Nonna seemed to come a long way and learned a lot through their trip to Nonna Lorretta's home town in Italy. I feel like Lola realised her responsibility by the end of the story to make a good life for herself and her family by deciding on an agreement with her father. Nonna's history played a massive part in this book and it really helped Lola throughout everything she attempted in Italy, but also Nonna had a lot of her own skeletons in her closet which she eventually got around to sorting out and that seemed to bring her and Lola closer together. There were a lot of hidden messages in this novel which I think is highly important for growing children to learn but I think the one thing I got most out of this read was learning to be strong and courageous, but also to forgive, forget and move on because you can't ever truly be happy if you don't eventually deal with your past and let go. It's one thing not only children must learn, but many adults too and I feel like that is another reason why this book is great for any horse lover, any age.

I noticed by the end of the book that there wasn't any sort of minor romance for the main character, Lola as there was for Issie in PCS who had a brief relationship with Aidan but it couldn't stay afloat due to bigger responsibilities. Personally I think that was a good choice as this was more about the retelling of the Palio race and what happened back in the 1940's during the war. Of course there was a bit of romance which took a back seat to the main course of the novel through Nonna's retelling of her bringing up in Italy before she came to America. It was sweet and romantic to read about a grandmother's view of her first love and what happened in the end. Although I truly feel like the real love story was the bond between girl and horse; the relationship between Lola and Nico was strong and showed a fierce passion and connection between the two. That's what I like most about Stacy's books, is that she always has this unending theme of that bond between a human and a horse and that's sometimes all someone, especially a young girl at Lola's age, really ever needs. I'll just quickly add that a rider on a dark bay horse just rode past my house and my heart leapt out of my chest! Stacy, you have made my inside's hurt but also fill me with joy again with this book and I thank you for that.

Overall I have given this book a 5 out of 5 stars because it is such a timeless and ageless read that it could be read by anyone and still be enjoyed, horse lover or not, young or old. Stacy is truly a pony genius and knows exactly how to warm the heart of a pony lover. A great novel for kids to read - I'm not at all surprised that it has won an award!

Thank you HarperCollins New Zealand for the review copy! Go like their Facebook page here:

Go add The Girl Who Rode The Wind to your Goodreads list HERE

Go buy it on MightyApe with 1 day delivery in New Zealand HERE

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