Book Review: Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally
If you’re looking for a light, upbeat, contemporary young adult novel, Racing Savannah definitely fits the bill.
Two days before the start of her senior year of high school, Savannah moves to a new town with her father and his pregnant girlfriend in order for him to start a promising new job as a groom for a very successful (a.k.a., super wealthy) horse racing farm. Savannah has grown up around horses and is eager to get work as well as one of the exercise “boys” — riders who take the racehorses out for their daily warm-ups and practice runs. But it’s not just her love of horses that drives her: The family has been deeply in debt for years, paying off the medical bills related to Savannah’s mother’s illness and death, and there’s barely enough money to scrape by, much less support a new baby.
Rule number one at Cedar Hill Farms: The staff does not mix with the owners, the Goodwin family. Easier said than done, especially since the owner’s son is also a senior in the same high school, super hot, and — incredibly — attracted to Savannah as well. Jack has a reputation for sleeping around, and Savannah is very conscious of her status as the hired help. Yet the more they work together, the more obvious the attraction is. And it’s not only physical: Jack respects Savannah, believes in her, and wants to give her a chance to break into the male-dominated world of horse racing jockeys.
Racing Savannah is, overall, a feel-good story about love overcoming obstacles. It’s not really a spoiler to say that there’s a happy ending; it’s perfectly obvious that things will work out. The two lead characters are clearly good people — so it’s only a question of how they’ll work past their differences, not if.
Savannah’s economic problems are not sugar-coated. She thinks long and hard about everything she spends money on. She shops at thrift stores, if at all. She uses the same threadbare comforter she’s had since she was a little girl. She knows that if she wants something, she has to work for it. At the same time, she loves her father tremendously, and even though she resents his girlfriend Cindy, Savannah is also concerned enough to cover Cindy’s maid shifts in the manor house when morning sickness gets to be too much, and even makes a secret deal with Jack’s father to cover Cindy’s missed wages out of her own earnings.
The writing is mostly light and breezy, entertaining even when dealing with serious matters. I enjoyed the author’s sense of humor, which is quirky enough to catch me by surprise throughout the book:
One time a horseman told me I have a way with horses. Dad told me not to listen when men say things like that, because they’re just trying to get into my pants. But I do have a way with horses. Dad, however, does not have a way with words.
Much later, getting ready for once of her first races as an apprentice jockey:
“You look good in the Goodwin colors,” he says, scanning my black and green riding silks.
“I look like a damned Slytherin.”
I liked the girl power in Racing Savannah, which is assertive without beating the reader over the head. It’s a given that Savannah is strong and talented; the only question is whether she can get the men who control the racing business, from the owner on down to the stable hands, to recognize her talent and give her a chance to prove herself. Likewise, the message around economic status is quite positive: Financial status doesn’t make Savannah inferior to anyone — she just has to work that much harder to get what she wants. The more determined she becomes, the more she realizes that the doors she believed to be shut for her, such as a college education, just need a few strong nudges to start to swing open. It’s not to say that everything is easily solved, but simply that Savannah is able to chart her own destiny by controlling her fear, respecting herself, and going after her goals.
Another aspect I really enjoyed was the portrayal of the teen friendships in Racing Savannah. Savannah is completely new in town, but she connects with people who are warm and welcoming. She doesn’t immediately become popular, but she finds a place and finds people with whom she can connect. I liked how the author avoids teen cliches such as the mean girl, the nerdy boy, the school princess, etc. There are characters who seem as though they’ll fit these neat compartmentalizations — but they don’t follow the rules of their types, and it’s fun and refreshing to see young people just being themselves and having a good time.
The sexual encounters in this book are a bit more explicit than most I’ve encountered recently in contemporary YA novels — but they’re used sparingly, and if I had to guess, I’d say that they probably ring pretty true for readers in the target demographic. It’s not a problem, but just something to be aware of, for readers who prefer hints rather than a play-by-play description. At the same time, Savannah is thoughtful about her sexuality, and is very clear about needing to be able to respect herself for her decisions, as well as demanding Jack’s respect.
I have not read the author’s previous books, which include several others set in the same town and high school as Racing Savannah. Characters from the earlier novels show up in background or supporting roles here, which will probably delight those who’ve read Miranda Kenneally’s other books.
All in all, I’m glad to have been introduced to a new-to-me author who takes such a clear-eyed view of life as a teen-aged girl. Miranda Kenneally creates strong, memorable female characters, without skimping on the fun and romance of being young and discovering life.
Title: Racing Savannah
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Young adult/contemporary
Source: Review copy courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley