by Shelley Peterson,
ISBN: 0889841772

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Children`s Books
by Alex Browne

To put it mildly, Dancer doesn't lack plot. First there is the winning of the Fuller Trophy at the Royal Winter Fair, then an attempted horse-napping, then a performance for the Queen, then a sabotaged girth, then a successful horse-napping (after the practice run), and then, of course, a dramatic rescue. All this and only fifty pages into Shelley Peterson's novel.

What, you ask, could possibly happen in the remaining 150 pages? Never fear, there's always another royal invitation; or a magical Cinderella transformation minus the magic (modern fairy godmothers come equipped with fashion consultants); or fox-hunting with a somewhat foppish Prince Charles.. The possibilities are apparently endless.

Is this fantasy? If Peterson had tossed, say, the Three Little Pigs into her menagerie, she might have had the beginnings of some kind of fairy-tale. She wanted, however, to write a realistic novel. Unfortunately, the characters on her guest list are so incompatible that Peterson loses control, and the potential fantasy never takes off. The result is chaos.

Not only is keeping track of Peterson's soap opera an exhausting task, the point of view in this novels shifts so dramatically it can throw even the most balanced reader into an identity-or rather an identification-crisis. Peterson leapfrogs from Mousie (the heroine), to her mother, to her mother's previous boyfriend, to the romantic Prince Charming (not to be confused with Charles or Philip, who both make cameo appearances), to the horse-napping villain, to the horse himself. Near the end, after a butchering scene that rivals the most grotesque of horror movies, Peterson writes: "Dancer tried to lift his head to tell her that he'd be all right, that it wasn't her fault, that he loved her, too. His head thumped down." So did mine.

Peterson's use of language and dialogue is unrealistic and out of step with young readers, who are quick to veer away from even a whiff of artificiality. On the morning of her mother's wedding, in a scene between Mousie and her father (who, for the record, is dead), her father says, ".That's why I'm glad your mother is marrying Rory. He's a terrific man, and believe me, up here we know." After listening to her father's "lecture from the grave" (as she calls it), Mousie responds, "I'll have to ruminate on that." Although I can hardly censure a ghost's use of language, I have my doubts about live eighteen-year-olds who talk like a thesaurus. On the other hand, for those "young adult" readers who aren't sure what a saddle is, they can learn that it's "the leather seat fastened on the horse's back" in a handy Glossary of Horse-related Terminology.

All in all, Dancer is a book to miss. Novels about girls and horses belong to a genre of their own, and there are many writers who can evoke this world in a quirky and realistic way. Unfortunately, Dancer meanders drunkenly through too many genres, steps on Cinderella's toes, stumbles in pursuit of a fox, and ends up falling flat on its face.


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