Anton DiSclafani: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls (2013)

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a refuge of privilege in a land devastated by the Depression. Thea Atwell’s arrival late in the summer season causes a ripple of intrigue and speculation. But even the most scandalous rumour cannot come close to the truth that destroyed her family, and brought her here. Fearless and unbroken, Thea soon finds that there is no banishment from secrets and temptations. Poised on the brink of adulthood, the events of that year will change the girls of Yonahlossee in ways they will never forget.

I’m not sure what exactly made me love this book so much. Was it the elegant writing, the dreamy mood, the sense of seeing a long-gone world, the tragedy of the story or the characters?

Anton di Sclafani’s (Anton is a woman, btw) novel Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is set in 1930, in North Carolina, in a boarding school for rich girls. The Great Depression is in full swing and the rich families of the South, who send their girls to Yonahlossee, are hit hard. Many a girl has to leave the school because their parents lost everything. Thea, the fifteen-year-old narrator of this novel, has been sent away by her family because of something terrible she did. What exactly this was and why the consequences were so terrible, will be revealed bit by bit all through the novel. When Thea arrives in Yonahlossee, she thinks it’s for a summer vacation, but her family wants her to stay at least a year. She comes from Florida and while her father is a doctor there’s a lot of family money coming from citrus plantations. Thea isn’t an only child, she has a twin brother, Sam. They have never been apart and being separated from her twin is what is hardest on Thea at first. But Thea is also not used to other people. Her family lived a sheltered, secluded life and other than her aunt, uncle and cousin Georgie, she never met people. The twins were home schooled.

Thea is surprisingly good at fitting in and making friends at Yonahlossee. And because this is a riding camp, she can pursue her only passion, which is riding. Thea is not only a passionate rider, but a gifted one. She’s reckless too and at times also cruel.

It’s not difficult to find out what Thea has done. What could make a rich family send away their daughter? The other girls at the school know it as well. Boy trouble. How far it went and why it’s not only a scandal but a tragedy is something they will not find out. At first we think Thea is sorry for what she did but when she falls in love at Yonahlossee and is prepared to disregard all sense of decorum once more, we become aware that maybe it wasn’t so much what she did but its aftermath that she regrets.

I loved the way DiScalafani captured the setting and the period. I liked how she showed the end of an era without turning this into a mournful book, but into one that shows that people can free themselves from their stifling upbringing if they are true to themselves. Thea is a character who is true to herself at all times. This comes at a cost but one she’s aware of and willing to pay.

If you like a rich, beautifully told story, with mystery and a lush setting, if you are fascinated by the Great Depression and big Southern Families and enjoy a coming-of-age story, which is at times quite steamy, then I’m pretty sure you’ll love The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls.

36 thoughts on “Anton DiSclafani: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls (2013)

  1. I have this and started reading it, but I have gotten sidetracked with it! Must get back to it–especially since I was enjoying it, too, and you liked it so much. I love books set in this era–but as usual I have far too many books on my ‘reading plate’ so to speak and some just get set aside temporarily…..

    • I was thinking of you. The Depression is not explored but it’s a backdrop and you can see how it changed a way of life.
      Some readers didn’t like Thea but I liked her. Not the way she rode her horses though.

  2. I agree with Guy that the title makes one think that this might be a little trite. Of course based on your commentary it was anything but. The ‘Tragedy” aspect of the mystery incites my curiosity!

    • I wasn’t sure about the title but I like that it conveys something from another era.
      I lie this cover.
      I liked Thea. Not the way she treats her horse (she rides them too hard) but verything else about her.

  3. Wonderful review, Caroline. I would have never guessed that Anton was a woman 🙂 Thea seems to be quite a strong character and after reading your review I want to find out what she did and why she ended up at the riding camp. I loved what you said about the book – that it “shows that people can free themselves from their stifling upbringing if they are true to themselves”. Very inspiring!

    • Thanks, Vishy. I really liked it a great deal. I had to mention that Anton is a woman because on amazon Germany they all referred to “him” and it was weird.
      I’ve read a few similar books and often people are broken in the end but Thea is so strong. I’m not a rider but reading about the horses made me almpost wish I was.

      • Interesting to know that, Caroline. I think most people wouldn’t have guessed that Anton was a woman. I don’t know when this trend started – I sometimes discover these days that what I think were in earlier decades names given to boys is these days given to girls also, like Jordan, Sydney, Morgan, Courtney. I don’t know whether my inference is correct or whether these names were all originally gender neutral. I also don’t know whether this is an American trend or is a worldwide trend. What do you think about this?

        • I think it’s an American trend. I’ve never noticed it here at all. There’s one name I know of “Andrea” which is an Italian boy’s name but often used for girls in German speaking countries, other than that I wouldn’t know. I also think Anton is a strange name followed by an Italian surname. I would have expected Antonio or Antonia. But in Italy you’d write Di Sclafani or Disclafani but not DiSclafani. I was wondering whether it was a pseudonym.

          • Interesting to know that, Caroline. Interesting to know about ‘Andrea’. I remember a woman tennis player in the ’80s who was called Andrea Jaeger. It also makes me think of the Italian crime fiction writer Andrea Camilleri 🙂 I think what you have said makes perfect sense – Anton is probably the shortened form of Antonia – probably the author’s parents thought so. I don’t know much about Italian names, but I agree with you that DiSclafani does sound odd. I have mostly seen ‘Di’ and the last name written separately and rarely together.

  4. I saw this in the bookshop a couple of weeks ago and hovered over it. Then I read some reviews online and they weren’t very complimentary so I forgot all about it. I’m really glad you enjoyed it – maybe I will pick it up one of these days.

    • I saw some of the negative reviews, but I also read some very positive ones. Funny enough people seem to dislike Thea for the very same reasons that got her in trouble in the 30s.
      On the other hand the crtics I’ve read wrote about this as if it was a very literary book. It’s not. It’s well told and entertaining but not the next Pulitzer. If that’s what they expected, then they couldn’t like it.

  5. Caroline, I’m so glad you wrote this review. I’ve had this title on my TBR list for a while. I was trying to pare down the list (I have so many titles on the list!!) and thought about deleting this one. Now I will definitely keep this and look forward to reading it. I enjoy coming of age stories set in this time period. (Have you read Rules of Civility?)

    • I’ve read Rules of Civility after having read your review and I thought of it while reading this. Of course, this one isn’t as witty as the Rules of Civility but I found it just as compelling.
      I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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