Horse Time: Fear of Falling by Laurie Halse Anderson
This is totally weird. How come they're not getting on my case? How come Dad's not telling me how badly I messed up?
And then I hear the strangest thing. Dad is apologizing--apologizing to me. "God, I'm so sorry, David," he says. "It's all my fault."
I blink, suddenly feeling dizzy. "Your fault? But--"
"I was stupid," he says harshly. "I pushed you too hard, too fast. You never would have tried that jump in a million years if I hadn't pushed you to do it. I--I just wanted--" he holds out his hands helplessly. "I'm sorry." He turns to Mom. "I'm so, so sorry."
David loves horses and riding. He desperately wants to learn to jump, hoping to please his estranged father whose chance to compete as an Olympian was ended in the boycott of the 1980 games. But David is haunted by a recurring nightmare in which his horse refuses a jump and he has a disastrous fall.
When his father, who has been absent and uncommunicative for over a year, suddenly reappears at the barn with a expensive jumper, King's Shadow, David is both elated and fearful--eager to show off his beginning skills but afraid that he will never equal his father's expectations. Quinn, his riding teacher, advocates a go-slow technique, what he calls "horse time," allowing both the rider and horse to learn at a comfortable pace, but David's father urges him to try an advanced jump which causes a bad fall with potentially severe injuries.
And then David learns that his father's return to Pennsylvania stems not from a desire to be with his family, but a desperate attempt to obtain a job with a local friend's help. David realizes that the money his dad should have sent for child support has gone into the purchase of a pricey jumper, and his conflict only grows when he sees his father force his unwilling mount into a difficult jump which causes the horse an injury as well.
Torn and confused by his father's behavior, David resolves to give up jumping and confesses his decision to Quinn:
"I don't want to be anything like him. I'm even thinking about giving up jumping. Who needs it? It's just for show, anyway."
"Well," Mr. Quinn says, gazing at Trickster rather than me. "I hope you won't do that, David. As much as you may not want to hear it, you do have your father's gift with horses. Only you have an advantage."
"We can't help being like our parents in some ways," Mr. Quinn says. "But you just showed that you're different from your father. You've got a lot of respect for these animals, David. You've also got good intuition--when you stop and listen to it."
In her new edition of Fear of Falling #9 (Vet Volunteers) (Puffin, 2009) Newbery author Laurie Halse Anderson continues her popular Vet Volunteers series with the continuing story of David Hutchinson, first featured in Trickster #3 (Vet Volunteers). (See my review here.) As in the other titles in this notable series, the young protagonist has solid support from adults like Quinn and veterinarian Dr. Mac, as well as his young friends who volunteer regularly at her animal clinic, as they work their way through the middle school years--on, as Quinn puts it, the slow but steady pace of "horse time."