Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Bookworm Sez
‘Dirt’ a must-read for horse lovers among us

“Dirt” by Denise Gosliner Orenstein c.2017, Scholastic $16.99 / $22.99 Canada, 224 pages

Thanks! You’re a lifesaver!

A friend gives you a lift, loans you her notes, shares his jacket with you, and you can’t appreciate it enough. Or maybe you’re the lifesaver, the one who’s always lending a hand or doing the right thing. Thanks! Just remember, though, as in the new book “Dirt” by Denise Gosliner Orenstein, the life you save may save yours.

Ever since her mother died and her father had taken to drinking his special cider all night, eleven-year-old Yonder hadn’t said one word. Why bother? Nobody listened anyway. Nah, she’d just be invisible and that was mostly okay.

It was not okay when bullies like Heywood Prune tormented her, though, which was often. Teachers at Robert Frost Middle School were never around when that happened, except when Yonder tried to defend herself. That was what got her expelled the afternoon she met Dirt.

She’d been sent home from school that day, and was sitting on the crooked steps of the shack she called home when the filthy, one-eyed pony walked up to her. He smelled bad and he was fat. Yonder knew exactly who he belonged to: old Miss Enid, who treated the animal badly, which was probably why the pony hung around Yonder’s house. It took two days for Yonder to befriend him, and to name him for the very thing he seemed to love.

Oh, but Dirt loved Yonder, too. More than her father, more than her teachers, more than the social workers who came around when she didn’t go to school. He seemed to understand what she was thinking. He was her only friend, so when she found out that Enid was trying to sell Dirt for horsemeat, Yonder knew she had to act fast. She hid him in the only place she knew he’d be safe: her house.

But you can’t hide a 300-pound pony in a house forever, especially when the school is looking for you, and when Social Services wants to talk to your dad.

And especially when the pony’s real owner wants her pony back…

Let’s start here: your horse-crazy 8-to-14-year-old wants this book. She might not know it now, but she does. And “Dirt” will gallop right into her heart.

Truly, the only thing to say about a pony that chooses his girl is that its every horse-wanting child’s dream. Dirt does that, and though he’s the comic relief in this book, he’s not a caricature; author Denise Gosliner Orenstein makes him authentic enough.

Then, despite a lack of voice and a bit of naïveté, Yonder is a wonderful coming-of-age heroine. Nothing escapes her; she’s sharp-minded about the grown-ups around her, teachers she has, and friends she doesn’t. And on that note, this book about friendship, responsibility, devotion, and love is thrilling, gut-wrenching (but not too much), and perfect for horsey girls.

But don’t let that stop you. Yes, you can enjoy this book, too – in fact, read it, laugh and cry, then share “Dirt” with your horse lover. It’s a book you’ll both savor.­­­