Friday, November 27, 2009

Out of the Gate: Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff

In the distance, between his yelling and the horn blaring, Tio Paolo sounded desperate. "Hurry," I told [my horse] Cavallo.

Suddenly I was feeling that desperation, too. We had to drive all the way to Sao Paolo to catch the plane. But I was determined. Five minutes, no more.

Up ahead was the curved white fence that surrounded the lemon grove. The overhanging branches were old and gnarled, and the lemons still green.

Pai, my father, had held me up the day he'd left. His hair was dark, his teeth straight and white. "Pick a lemon for me, Lidie. I'll take it to America."

"When I send for you, you'll bring me another," he said.

But her father has forgotten the lemon, forgotten the meaning of that promise, and when Lidie offers him the still green fruit she has carried in her pocket all the way from Brazil, he doesn't understand its significance. Her big brother Rafael has decorated her new bedroom in baby pink with Disney figures, and Lidie finds the five years away from her father and brother too great a gulf to reach across. The taciturn men talk little and then only of their work training the racehorses that her father oversees. After the years since her mother's death, years of dreaming of being with her father, Lidie finds herself longing for the cheery bustle back in her aunt and uncle's sunlit house. There, praised by her uncle Paolo as "a natural rider," Lidie is saddened to be consigned by her father to "learning to ride" on a broken-down school horse too old to gallop.

But then a new horse arrives at the training barn, a young, beautiful gray, named Wild Girl, Lidie's mother's affectionate name for her, in whose fearful but lonely eyes Lidie sees herself, her own longing. As she gentles the terrified newcomer, Lidie begins to feel at home in her own skin and in her new place. Finally, she finds the courage to ride the filly in a joyful dash across the fields before her father's eyes, and he begins to see her, not as the little girl he left behind, but as the person she now is. And then her father tells how Wild Girl came to be there.

"About the horse," he said. "About Wild Girl. When I heard her name, when I heard she was for sale, I couldn't resist." He shook his head. "It's what Mamae called you."

I looked at him now, this stern man whose face I suddenly recognized, my father, who had laughed as he held me up to the tree in the lemon grove.

Now the lemon seemed so unimportant, that he hadn't remembered it. But, ah, Wild Girl.

No one gets inside the head of a character and reveals it to the reader better than Newbery winner Patricia Reilly Giff, and in her latest Wild Girl (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009), as she did so well in Pictures of Hollis Woods and Nory Ryan's Song, Giff knows how to bring the immigrant, the lonely outsider, forward and reveal the resilience and strength of her characters with striking clarity.

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