Horse Trouble

First Second. Oct. 2021. 288p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781250225870; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781250225887.
Gr 5-8–Kate and her best friend, Becky, do everything together, except riding. Kate loves horses, but Becky’s allergic, so Kate is on her own at the barn, where she does chores to help pay for lessons. The barn is a haven—except when snobby Jana makes fun of Kate’s falls and her weight. Kate’s older brother and his friends mock her, too, with mean nicknames, even grabbing her “love handles.” Riding is a refuge: Kate’s trainer, Barb, is steady and supportive, revealing that all good riders fall and that what’s important is to get back on the horse (literally). As Kate prepares for a big horse show, stable hand Ernesto helps her regain her confidence after yet another fall, and new “barn rat” Valerie cheers her on. Varner’s rounded, cartoony style is mostly accurate where the horses, tack, and barn are concerned, and definitions of specialized vocabulary are included at the bottom of the page. Each character is introduced with their name, age, astrological sign, likes and dislikes, and appearance; it’s a fun touch, but the well-rounded characters are easy to distinguish even without all the added information. Becky is Asian American and Ernesto is Mexican; all other characters are white. Varner uses a blue and white palette with occasional pops of pink for emphasis.
VERDICT Although horses are Kate’s “thing,” readers don’t need to be horse lovers to empathize with her self-consciousness and growing self-confidence.

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