Friday, January 08, 2010

Quicksand Pony

This is a guest review by Balaji. In his own words, he is "a dad, software engineer, movie buff and travel enthusiast who also loves to write."

Balaji's movie review site is my first inspiration to blogging. I have always admired his style of writing and his passion for reviewing. Now without further ado, the review.

Title: Quicksand Pony
Author: Allison Lester
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Ages: 8 - 10

My daughter, for her book report that was named 'Eye on the World', had to pick a book that was set in a different culture(neither Indian nor American) and was over 100 pages long. The conditions ended up being more stringent than we initially thought, once we actually started looking for such books. Finally, she ended up picking up The Quicksand Pony by Alison Lester, which is set in Australia. While it satisfied both the criteria for the book report, it also seemed to be a mystery, which is my daughter's favorite genre.

The novel begins with Joyce leaving town with her baby and going by boat to the wilderness. We then fast-forward 9 years to learn about Biddy, an almost 10-year-old girl living in the coastal headland in Australia with her parents and her grandfather. Annually, her parents take their cattle out to the headland during autumn and then bring them back the following spring after they've fattened up. This mustering trip is something Biddy has always wanted to go on and this year she gets the chance. But the trip ends in sadness since her pony Belle gets stuck in quicksand on the beach on the way back and Biddy is forced to abandon her. When she goes looking for the pony the next day, she doesn't find her but sees some hoof prints in the sand, which gives her hope that the animal is alive. But she also sees a smaller pair of footprints alongside the hoof prints and this has her confused.

Biddy is nicely fleshed out as an interesting, regular 9-year-old girl. Her interest in old tales, her friendship with Irene and her interest in accompanying her parents all seem very realistic. It is because of this that her sadness when she has to abandon Belle and her hope about finding her alive are quite touching. Biddy's life also gives us a peek into a very different lifestyle. Lester's descriptions about the annual 'muster' drive are very interesting and her detailed descriptions about the route they take(the map in the book is very useful here), the different terrains they have to cross and the dangers inherent in them are very vivid.

Lester creates a lady Robinson Crusoe with Joyce and writes wonderfully about her life in the forest. Unlike Crusoe though, Joyce is living alone out of her own choice and her reasons for this and her contentment with the life she has created for herself and her baby are conveyed very clearly. The descriptions here are vivid and beautiful as Joyce makes the wild her home and fashions everything she needs from nature. With vivid imagination, Lester creates some wonderful images in our mind as Joyce very resourcefully creates a bath and a bed, fashions a chain for her baby or goes rummaging through the ranger's stations for clothes and other supplies.

But The Quicksand Pony is a definitely novel for older kids(8 and above). This is as much due to its content as its narrative style. As far as content goes, the book deals with death, teens getting married and having a child, Biddy talks about about having a crush and there are some words that could be considered inappropriate. As for structure, the book tells two stories - that of Biddy and that of Joyce and Joe - in parallel by alternating chapters between them. This is probably a new style for young readers(it definitely was for my daughter) and they may get a bit confused as the narrative perspective changes between chapters(while the changes are sometimes indicated by the chapter headings, this is not always the case) .

But once readers understand the concept of two tracks and recognize the right track, the story becomes more interesting as it slowly brings the two storylines together. The fact that the characters in the two tracks don't know about each other makes things exciting for the reader. So as Biddy is wondering about who plaited her ponies' hair, we know that it is Joe. And when Joe sees some people driving cattle, we know that they are Biddy and her family. And in some cases where even we don't know what is happening(like the reason why the cattle get spooked), the explanations later make us smile.

The Quicksand Pony is an absorbing tale for young readers.


ranjani.sathish said...

Balaji, thanks for a very interesting and detailed review ! The story seems quite interesting. We are currently reading Alison lester's 'Magic Beach', meant for much younger kids.

sathish said...

Balaji, Thanks for the guest post. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

Now that you pointed out, I realise that none of the books that my 7 year old reads currently have the 2 tracks (or multiple tracks) of storyline.

Choxbox said...

Balaji, the book sounds very interesting!

utbtkids said...

Thanks for doing the guest review BB.

Balaji said...

ranjani, u r welcome. I didn't know before that Lester had written many books for younger kids. The book jacket mentioned that this was her first book for older children :)

sathish, u r welcome. yes, my daughter came to me confused a bit when the narrative shifted to a different track for the first time and that's when I realized that this was something new for her :)

ChoxBox, yes it was :)

utbt, thank you for posting it. SaffronTree is doing an awesome thing and it was nice to be part of it in a small way :)

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