In Cathy Ringler’s wonderful middle-grade book, a 14-year-old girl struggles with her weight, school bullies, and a stubborn horse.
Equestrian Miya Skippingbird dreams of buying the perfect horse so she might win a barrel race and be respected by her peers. But Miya’s ranch family is poor, so her father buys her the affordable “Dream,” a stubborn, bucking, overweight horse. Despite Miya’s frustration, her childhood friend and long-time crush, handsome bull-rider Jake Runningdeer, encourages Miya to persevere and train her.
Meanwhile, Miya struggles with her longtime friendship with Lily. After Lily joins in the heartless teasing of new student Abigail, Miya befriends Abigail and guiltily avoids Lily. Soon, the two friends split, with Lily aligning herself with two mean girls and joining in relentlessly teasing Miya about her weight and other issues.
As the story evolves, Miya pursues her dream of racing through ups and downs, helps Lily out of an embarrassing situation and enjoys a growing relationship with Jake.
Ringler’s characters are wonderfully complex. For example, despite Lily’s cruelty to Miya, she’s ultimately a sympathetic character, struggling with her parents’ divorce and stung by Miya’s dismissal of her—even starting to cry when she asks Miya why she “ditched” her. Throughout, Ringler deliver’s “spot on” teenage dialogue. After Jake tells Miya his smoothie has kale and flax in it, Miya recoils: “Kale? Are you kidding me? Why would anyone drink that stuff? You used to be the Pop-Tart king!”
Additionally, the narrative is beautifully crafted, with lyrical, evocative passages as in: “The breeze rustled the sagebrush. Brown sparrows darted in and out of the barn, beaks filled with dry grass and twigs. Miya stared at the black spot on Dream’s neck. She felt lighter, like springtime.”
Ringler has painted a lovely, detailed, sometimes heartbreaking portrait of a sensitive teenage girl as she deals with insecurity, embarrassment, failure—and hope and success. Miya’s Dream will easily come in first place for its readers.