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.