I can’t believe I liked a book with so little boy drama this much or Horse Crazy #1, Horseback Summer

Taking a break from my usual snark fodder to recap a series I loved as a preteen.  I was never much into horses but the books were about camp, and you know how I feel about camp.  The first one was published in 1990, which means 80stacular glory.  Unforch, we don’t get too many outfit descriptions, but we do have illustrations, which I dare say are even better!

So the thirteen-year-old heroine, Emily, and her BFF Judy are headed to Webster’s Country Horse Camp for first six weeks/eight weeks depending on which part of the first chapter you’re reading.  But the day before they’re supposed to leave, Judy breaks her leg while trying to rescue her kitten from a tree.  I would comment on the stupidity of climbing a tree and risking major injury the day before leaving for summer camp, but thirteen-year-olds are inherently stupid, so this is actually pretty realistic.  What I can snark, though, is WTF were her parents thinking?  Surely they knew what she was up to since it was her mother who found the cat in the tree first.  Gotta love awesome YA novel parenting.

Anyway, Emily is reluctant to go to camp without Judy.  She’s afraid she won’t make friends or have any fun without
Judy there, which I think are reasonable concerns for a
thirteen-year-old.  I was the shy one in my group of
friends, and at that age, I’d probably have been nervous about going to
camp alone, too.  But Judy talks her into it, saying she doesn’t want to ruin Emily’s summer and her parents probably wouldn’t get Emily deposit back.  Which is actually pretty good reasoning, but I have to wonder if Judy’s parents got their deposit back.  Is there a clause for last-minute injuries?  And once again I put far too much thought into a YA novel.

Emily goes to camp and meets her new bunkmates, the “Fillies”–Webster’s sorts its campers by age, the “Thoroughbreds” being the oldest, the “Fillies” the middle, and the “Foals” the youngest. She immediately befriends Libby, the fiery redhead who reminds me of a girl version of one of the Weasley twins; and Lynda, the farm girl from Iowa.  Nothing stereotypical about these characterizations, not at all.  Then there’s Danielle a.k.a. “Danny,” who has no real personality traits besides being exotically beautiful; Penny, a twelve-year-old who reminds me of BSC’s Mary Anne pre-makeover; and Dru, the mousy plump girl with braces who despite Emily’s overtures of friendship remains mopey and sullen.  Cheer up, Emo kid.  Finally we meet fourteen-year-old Caroline a.k.a. “Caro,” the Designated Bitch(tm) whose rich parents made her come to Webster’s to “broaden her horizons.”  She arrives rockin’ the Mom jeans and a polo shirt with the little alligator on it. Fierce.

Caro begs Pam, the Fillies’ counselor, to let her bunk with the Thoros instead, but Pam puts the kibosh on that.  Resigned to her fate, Caro proceeds to hog the cabin’s only clothes rack.  The rest of the Fillies bend over and take it.  Lynda and Danny are impressed by Caro’s extensive wardrobe, so Caro warms up to them, but continues to ignore everyone else.

The girls take a tour of the camp and get their first look at the horses.  Emily is immediately taken with a Palomino named Joker, and no, not in the “his ‘wife?’ A horse” way (WARNING: link is NSFW and most definitely NSFL).  But Caro wants Joker for herself, too.  Wow, a bitchfight that’s not even over a boy!  See why this series is awesome?

This is not to say no boy-related bitchfighting occurs, however.  Caro’s got a thing for Warren, the dreamy son of the camp director, and is undaunted by the knowledge that he is “going steady” with Melinda, the Foals’ counselor.  O hai 1960.  Warren’s playing the campfire that night (hey, even Eddie Vedder had to start somewhere) and he’s totally 80s hot, you guys.  Check out that mullet, flannel shirt, tight jeans, and cowboy boots!  Be still, my eleven-year-old heart.

Caro arrives late and makes her grand entrance, using the opportunity to put the moves on Warren.  Melinda shows up and puts the kibosh on that real fast.  For a minute I was thinking she was going to throw down, but alas, no literal bitchfight.  Bummer.

The next day, the girls get their horse assignments.  In a shocking plot twist, Joker is assigned to Emily.  Caro pouts about it but Pam, the counselor, tells her the assignments are final.  The girls have their first riding lesson and of course it goes great, and Emily immediately bonds with Joker.  I admit I didn’t care too much about the horse bits so my recappage of those will be pretty minimal.  Sorry.

Later on, Emily is the bunk writing a letter to Judy, and decides to take a picture of Joker with her Polaroid camera.  I remember being so envious of Emily for having a Polaroid camera.  Weren’t those things the shit?  Caro, who’s just gotten back from a sesh of speeding up the aging process (a.k.a. sunbathing… ahh, the days before Mystic), invites herself along, wanting a picture with Joker as well.  Emily suggests that Caro take a picture with her own mount, Dark Victory, but Caro insists upon Joker.  Emily is suspicious but goes along with it.

Caro exhibits a flagrant disregard for the rules, wearing a bikini and sandals (you’re supposed to wear covered shoes in the stable) and talking Emily into taking Joker outside (campers aren’t supposed to take the horses out without supervision).  She also talks Emily into using up three of her last four shots on her and Joker, leaving only one picture left for Emily.  Of course, Emily’s picture doesn’t come out well.  Warren shows up and busts them, but Caro flirts with him and makes it sound like it was Emily’s idea to take Joker outside.  Emily is annoyed, but Caro appeases her by promising to buy her a new roll of film next time they head to town.  Ahh, the days before digital cameras.  These girls truly live in the Dark Ages.

In the days that follow, Caro quickly befriends Emily, lending her clothes and money and inviting her to sit with her and the Thoros at meals. Emily ditches the other Fillies, letting Caro bulldoze her into seeing Warren’s rock band in concert instead of going on a hayride with the other Fillies. We get some outfit descriptions, and they are 80slicious!  One of the Thoros wears her hair in “jagged spikes on top of her head” and sports “big, dangling earrings and lots of makeup.”  Hardcore.  Check out Caro’s getup: “white slacks, white midriff top, white sandals, and white scarf tied around the golden ponytail that jutted at a rakish angle on top of her head.”  Emily thinks Caro looks seventeen.  Hot.  Sadly, we don’t get much description of Emily’s outfit, but we know she’s got a black tank top, blue bandanna, and turquoise bracelet (all loaned by Caro).  Caro also laments that Emily’s ears aren’t pierced, or she could wear Caro’s “silver Navaho earrings.”  I think Emily dodged a bullet there.

At the concert, Caro pays for Emily’s admission and buys her a soda, despite Emily’s protests.  Emily has a crappy time at the concert.  The Thoros are all boy-crazy and boring and Emily isn’t really into the music, supposedly because she doesn’t know much about rock bands, but I’m inclined to think the River Rats just suck.  Emily insists she will pay Caro back but Caro will hear none of it.

Back at camp, Libby is suspicious of Caro’s motives and warns Emily, but Emily doesn’t believe her.  I see shades of Idiot Plot (WARNING: TV Tropes link… if you click, you will be sucked into the vortex!), but I don’t blame Emily too much.  It’s hard to deny the allure of hanging with the “cool kids,” even if they are all shallow bitches, and come on, it’s free stuff!

Later that week, Caro suggests trading mounts for a trail ride.  Emily hesitates, but Caro insists it’s just for one day, friends share stuff, blah blah.  She brings up all the clothes and money she lent to Emily. Emily figures she owes Caro a favor after all she’s done for her, and lets her have Joker for the day.  Caro spends the whole trail ride scamming on Warren, while Emily can barely handle Dark Victory. 

After the trail ride, Caro’s MIA until dinner, during which she avoids Emily and does not save a seat for her at their usual table.  Emily’s still too dense to put two and two together.  After dinner, Matt Webster, the camp director, asks Emily to step into his office.  He puts his arm around her as they walk to the office, and I know it’s supposed to seem affectionate and homey, but I was getting such creepy vibes, man.  The Mr. Collins of Webster’s Country Horse Camp, perhaps?  Matt asks Emily if she’s happy with her mount, which upsets her, because she is seriously obsesso over that horse.  I don’t think I’m that attached to my macbook, and I’m pretty scarily attached to it.  It turns out that Caro approached Matt about trading mounts with Emily for the summer, which is why she was MIA all afternoon.  Emily’s like “Aww, hell naw!” and reasons that Caro buttered Emily up all week so she’d “repay” her by trading mounts.  Matt tells Emily she’s a pretty smart Filly.  I beg to differ, but as I said before… thirteen-year-olds, inherently stupid, blah blah.

After leaving Matt’s office, Emily leaves an envelope containing the money she owes under Caro’s pillow.  Caro finds Emily and bitches her out, and Emily finally grows a pair.  She calls Caro on lying to Matt.  Caro tries to defend herself, confessing that she doesn’t have many friends.  Well, with that sparkling personality, I can’t imagine why.  Caro then calls Emily immature, which hurts Emily’s feelings, despite her realization that Caro’s been manipulating her the whole time.  Caro flounces off and Libby drops down from a nearby tree, where she’d overheard the whole thing.  She tells Emily “I told you so” but is otherwise pretty cool about the whole thing, and commends Emily for standing up to Caro.  As a former shy and wimpy preteen, I kind of agree.  Then Libby shows Emily a really disgusting bug she found in the tree, and the two of them plot to leave it on Caro’s pillow. All is well… till book two, at least.

The next one is about Dru, but that’s the one I don’t have, so you’ll have to live without reading about her. The third one’s pretty good; it’s about field day with the boys’ camp across the river.  This one oughtta be fun.