And Again

Cover of "Fire Pony"

Cover of Fire Pony

32. The Fire Pony by Rodman Philbrick

After enjoying Freak the Mighty so much, I thought I should try more by Philbrick, and came across this novel. There are some strong thematic similarities, with both novels told by a quiet orphaned boy in difficult family circumstances that he has little or no control over, who is failing in school. The settings are quite different, however; whereas Max might have quite enjoyed starting again in a place where no-one knew his family story, here Roy keeps being displaced. While Max lives in suburbia with older predictable adults (his grandparents), Roy is following his firebrand brother Joe Dilly around the rural horseranches of the western US.

At the start of this novel Roy and Joe Dilly (the way Roy always refers to him) are on the move, trying to get far enough away from Montana that the trouble Joe Dilly got into last won’t come back to haunt them. They find the Bar None, a ranch where everyone is welcome, and while the manager isn’t looking for more staff, Joe Dilly’s talent as a farrier and horseman win them a place, at least for the summer. Rick the manager and Mr Jessup the owner go out of their way to help Joe and Roy feel welcome and able to stay, smoothing over difficulties with the truant officer (since Roy isn’t in school) and others, and even giving Roy (the use of) a pony to break (with lots of guidance from all three men) and ride. Both brothers are happy at the Bar None, but neither can quite lose the worry that something’s going to go wrong again, that Joe Dilly’s going to do something stupid again…

I liked this novel a lot. It has a related feel to Freak the Mighty, but is a quite different story. It doesn’t downplay the technical details of looking after lots of horses, but doesn’t overwhelm with them either. Certain scenes remind me of Black Beauty, in a good way, but this is definitely a modern tale. It has a light touch with many of the moral issues, but there are lots of them there. One I want to reread, I think.

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