The pony question by Jackie Merchant
Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760651640. 255pp.
(Ages: 9 -13) Recommended. Twelve-year-old Essie lives a modest life with her mother Francesca in an Australian country town. They resettled there from the city after her father 'Shiny Steve' remarried. Essie is still recovering from glandular fever and feeling rather unloved by her father. Francesca restores old furniture for a living and this takes them to a clearance sale on a farm. They accidentally purchase a pony on its last legs. In her past life Essie was a successful winner of dressage events. However her father drugged her horse because it had injuries when he wanted Essie to go in the dressage finals. He was caught and this caused Essie to be banned from competitions. Essie's reputation was ruined and social media helped spread the message. As the new pony, Moxie, recovers with Essie's care it also develops some difficult behaviours but they also learn it had a successful past. Essie believes Moxie needs to be retrained but this is expensive. Her father has moved to Germany and offers little help, although he was once her mainstay. Fortunately Essie's friend and neighbours make up for it. Francesca has much sage advice, which helps Essie but as her self-confidence grows, she makes her own decisions.
This is a well-paced hopeful story. It is not just about a girl obsessed with horses, although the author's knowledge clearly adds to the believability. It is more nuanced than that, which makes it quite satisfying. The setting is well imagined and the characters all have their own interesting personalities. You feel it would be terrific to be part of this caring community. Essie is a very likeable girl with understandable self-doubts, a sharp assessor of other people's characters, yet considerate and with good values. Like Moxie, Essie is also getting a second chance at success as she becomes a teenager. The author weaves in values of appreciating what you have and calling out artificiality. In particular sustainable practices of reusing and remaking things is juxtaposed with our plastic throw-away society.