Gray Horse at Oak Lane Stable (Oak Lane Stable Adventures, Book 2)
by Kerri Lukasavitz
Young Adult Fiction
Three Towers Press, an imprint of HenschelHAUS Publishing
September 1, 2020, 299 pp
Reviewed by Joan Bauer
All children should have obsessions. In Gray Horse at Oak Lane Stable, Kerri Lukasavitz’s second novel for young adults, thirteen-year-old Cassie Piotrowski and her friends are obsessed with horses. The story, set in 1976, invites any reader to immerse herself in a world of shared values and interests—a world that can reflect universal experiences through an unfamiliar lens.
Lukasavitz easily evokes the nineteen-seventies with her beautiful world-building. When a March snowstorm sends Cassie home early from school, one of the boys “bent over and tucked the open ends of plastic bread bags in the tops of his boots after putting his stocking feet into them.” And when the bus reaches Cassie’s house, her mother, a freelance writer, is at home making banana bread and stew. The story is full of delightful touches that ground it firmly in its moment, from the shag carpeting to the communal experience of the summer Olympics and the bicentennial. Even the quiet pacing is reminiscent of a time before the internet, though Cassie’s problems with bullying will be recognizable to anyone who’s ever been the victim of a nasty post on social media.
Cassie fully inhabits this world and takes responsibility for it. At the stable, she breathes in “the rich, dense smell of horses kept inside all winter long;” she displays intimate knowledge and professionalism as she cares for her horse, Snowdrops, even as she longs to try new things with different mounts. Cassie may have an expensive hobby, but there is never a whiff of helicopter parenting or a mention of how it will look on a college application. When she wins, she accepts her ribbons gracefully; but when she loses—and she does, repeatedly, once the bullying starts—Lukasavitz takes the opportunity to examine the full range of her changing emotions. As the novel proceeds, I found myself wishing anxiously that Cassie would talk to her parents about the threatening notes she was receiving, and the culmination of this problem is managed beautifully. But the book demands something that may be in short supply among young readers: patience.
Still, it is a patience well worth cultivating, and for the parents and grandparents of young readers, it should come with many smiles. After all, I certainly never expected to hear the names “England Dan and John Ford Coley” again.
Reviewer Joan Bauer holds a Master’s degree in English from Marquette University and has worked as a trust officer in a bank. In the course of raising three children, she has chaired fundraisers, served on boards, and volunteered frequently at church and school. She is working on a novel.
Wisconsin Writers Association
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