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Review: ‘The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls’ by Anton Disclafani

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Updated: July 24, 2013 6:06AM

Thea Atwell has been banished from her home amid the orange groves of Florida to a riding camp for girls in North Carolina.

Her crime is the tragic result of 15-year-old Thea’s emerging sexuality. Debut novelist Anton Disclafani’s “The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls” (Riverhead, $27.95) unfolds with the same confidence Thea shows in the riding ring. “Yonahlossee” achingly captures the yearning and heightened self-awareness of a teenage girl discovering love and passion in the South of the 1930s.

Thea has grown up in a sheltered environment, riding horses and exploring nature in small-town Florida with a doctor father, a beautiful mother and a twin brother, Sam, her gentle soulmate who tends to baby squirrels and captures snakes and lizards to observe in his terrariums.

Thea’s cloistered home life is a human version of the terrariums Sam keeps, but her emerging womanhood cannot be contained. Sam and Thea rarely see other children, except their cousin Georgie, whose attention toward Thea triangulates the cousins’ bond and builds to the tragedy that leads to Thea’s exile.

Camp is both a prison and a refuge for Thea. There, she befriends wealthy debutantes whose fortunes fade amid the deepening Depression. With taut pacing that toggles between Thea’s life at camp and flashbacks to her life in Florida, Disclafani builds to the tragedy that will define three young lives.

Gannett News Service

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