True Blue is the third novel by Jane Smiley about young rider Abby Lovitt and her adventures on the family ranch with the horses that her dad buys and sells. The series began with The Georges and the Jewels, followed by A Good Horse.
The saga continues when Abby buys True Blue, a dazzling grey Thoroughbred, for pocket change–literally. Blue’s owner was killed in a car crash and there’s no one to claim him, so Abby’s trainer offers him to Abby, along with two trunks of his blankets, tack and his owner’s tall riding boots.
Abby’s not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but she begins to wonder after she gets the horse home and strange things start to happen. Blue is beautiful and sweet-tempered, but spooky about inexplicable things. At times he seems to be looking for someone, perhaps his dead owner.
Soon, Abby starts to hear and see things that spook her, too! Did she really hear a whispered, He’s still my horse? Was that really a ghost riding Blue bareback in the moonlight?
The thought of the dead woman’s boots gives Abby the creeps, so she puts off seeing what else is in the tack trunks. She has plenty to keep her busy, what with teaching two beginning young riders and helping her dad with the new horses he has bought and is training for resale.
As one would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winner, Smiley’s writing is flawless and her characters are distinctive and memorable. There’s no one to really dislike, no grand villain. But young readers will pick up on the subtle flaws in some characters and the strengths in others.
The author’s experience as a horsewoman also gives the story veracity, with nothing contrived or overdone. The Lovitts–Mom, Dad, Danny and Abby–are a genuine family in the horse business. As they experience the ups and downs of buying, training and selling horses, they remain a happy, well-adjusted family with firm religious beliefs. The only real tension is between Mr. Lovitt and his son, Danny, who quit high school and left home to work for a farrier. But he’s a caring young man who pitches in when the family needs him.
The Lovitts live a simple life, with no television and no frills, which doesn’t seem to bother Abby. Because they?re in the horse business, Abby and her father constantly come in contact with wealthy parents and their privileged children, some of whom are riding horses trained by Abby and purchased from the Lovitts.
Abby takes this in stride, too and tries hard not to miss Black George, now named Onyx, when she sees Sophie riding him.
Abbys a good kid, but not a goody-two-shoes. As the narrator of the story, she lets us know what she’s really thinking, even though she avoids rolling her eyes or sassing her parents. She has a good sense of humor, and you can understand why her friends like her.
True Blue is an entertaining story for young horse-loving girls, with a nice touch of mystery and a subtle lesson or two about patience and the virtue of earning one’s own money. Any reader who emulates Abby is on the right track.
Personally, I fell in love with Blue, who reminds me of a horse that I owned for 20+ years. Though he had been removed from an abusive situation by the ASPCA, he was the smartest, kindest, most trusting horse I ever owned. At the end of True Blue, Blue’s training hasn’t advanced very far. I’m hoping we’ll see him come into his own in Smiley’s next book.
Published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children?s Books, Jane Smiley’s True Blue is 296 pages for readers 10 and up. It’s available in hardcover ($12.40) and paperback and Kindle ($6.99) from Amazon.com.