Book review: Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss


I’ve loved every Molly Gloss book I’ve read, and Hearts of Horses proved no exception.  Here’s my review:

It’s 1917 in rural Oregon, and many of the local men are away in France fighting. Into this scene rides Martha Lessen, a girl of 19 who says she can break horses to saddle. With fewer men around to perform the same job, Martha finds success first by hiring on at the Bliss ranch, then by expanding out to other ranches in the county. Eventually setting up a circuit training, where she rides horses from one corral to the next rotating where a horse spends the night, Martha works hard to gain the respect of the horses and the people in the area.

The tale unfolds slowly, giving the reader time to get to know the characters the way Martha gets to know them as well as her horses, one incident at a time. And the story is firmly rooted in it’s time period. There’s anti-German sentiment directed against ranchers of German descent, even though they were born in this country. There’s sacrifice for the war effort, and there’s loss from the war too. The cast of characters are a mix of good and bad, which you would expect to find in just about any place you settle for a while. As Martha’s confidence in her abilities grow, so do her connections to people in the county.

As in her other books, The Jump Off Creek and Wild Life, Gloss brings the American west in its first decades of settlement to life. Her storytelling is rich in details, and she knows what motivates and moves her characters. Her female characters are strong, often bucking expectations for women of their time while remaining true to themselves. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in 8th grade and up.

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