The Horse of the River

“Gillian had been partnered with Beauty. Her fears about not being able to handle a challenging horse floated away. She wanted nothing more than to rush forward and throw her arms around the horse’s neck, but she forced herself to approach slowly from the side, so Beauty could see her coming.”

Twelve-year-old Gillian is a horse lover who is just beginning Camp Canyon Falls in British Columbia, Canada. The camp focuses on natural horsemanship and riding skills, so for four weeks Gillian will be cell-phone free and in horse heaven. After quickly making friends (and learning who to steer clear of), she gets settled into the routine and works to overcome her fears while growing more confident with her assigned horse, Beauty. After an accident on the trail, though, Gillian has to deal with the difficult horse, General, and must fight to survive and return to the camp.

Ratings & Reviews

  • Book Grade: A-
    • The Horse of the River is a sweet juvenile fiction book – it features pre-teens and teens, so it is a good crossover for young advanced readers, or older readers who aren’t looking for a challenge. The plot is predictable, but engaging. The characters are likeable and the setting is fun and remote enough to transport readers away to a scenic horse camp. Some of the details seem a bit unrealistic from an adult perspective, but young readers will likely not notice anything but an engaging plot and a relatable protagonist dealing with insecurity, fear, and the tough parts of growing up.
  • Movie Rating: G
    • This book is perfect for readers who are fans of horse stories – particularly girls as all the main characters are female. This book has innocent thoughts and minor shenanigans, and seems like a Disney-style miniseries – a sweet protagonist dealing with a seeming bully and an unpredictable obstacle. The Horse of the River hints at a spooky story, but doesn’t dive much further into the that. A pretty tame read overall. Yes, there is the whole bit about having to find her way back to the trail after the accident at the river, but there is a lot of self-awareness on Gillian’s part that makes for an adventurous story rather than a tragic tale.
  • Would I Buy This for My Library: Yes.
    • This book is definitely geared more toward young readers, so this will not be a great fit for advanced high school readers looking for something more complex. Readers who still like a lighthearted story about animals, though, will find this engaging. It covers a range of topics – sibling relationships, mean girls, empathy, homesickness – but does so in a natural way that will hook readers. Plus, this is the first book in the series, so it is a great way to hook reluctant readers.

Book Talk Questions

  1. Who is Stella and what is her role in the story? Does she make it easier to understand Gillian? Explain.
  2. Describe Katrina. Explain her involvement with the prank and how it backfires on her.
  3. How is Jordan injured? After being injured, what do she and Gillian realize about Katrina that might explain her actions?
  4. Explain how Gillian gets lost. What would you have done in her situation? How is it resolved?
  5. What does Katrina do to try to help it? Why does she do it?

A Perfect Read for Fans of…

  • Black Beauty
  • The Black Stallion
  • Misty of Chincoteague
  • My Friend Flicka
  • Warrior Cats series
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