#945 When horse sense is required
by K.L. Denman
Victoria: Orca Books, 2019
$9.95 / 9781459822665
Reviewed by Carol Anne Shaw
Coming Back, by K.L. Denman, is part of the Orca Books’ Rapid Reads series. These short novels and non-fiction books are high-interest, quick reads, primarily targeted at readers who struggle with literacy.
Denman introduces us to Julie, a young woman who is battling PTSD after a traumatic car accident almost a year earlier. Julie has no memory of the event, or of her boyfriend, Roger, who was with her in the car. Julie is depressed, unmotivated, and riddled with anxiety. But when her therapist suggests she might benefit from having an emotional support animal to help her on her road to recovery, something sparks inside of Julie; an old dream never realized — the one of having a horse!
In no time at all, Julie purchases Scarlett, a beautiful chestnut mare, and secures boarding for her at a local dressage stable not far from her home. It’s a huge learning curve for Julie, and after almost a year of feeling completely incapacitated, she has suddenly stepped way out of her comfort zone. Owning a horse is a big responsibility, and Julie soon discovers that both she and Scarlett have a lot to learn.
But the boarding stable proves itself an inhospitable environment, and it isn’t long before Julie moves Scarlett to a new stable run by a man named Len — a barn with a more “natural” approach to horse training.
But Julie soon learns that, in this case, natural is just another word for abusive, and as her intuition grows, so does her dislike for Len and his questionable training methods.
And while Julie adores her horse, her mounting anxiety, low self-esteem, trust issues, and a feeling she has betrayed Scarlet have made this new experience anything but therapeutic.
When Julie witnesses a particularly cruel training session between Len and her horse, she is triggered, and, in an instant, something snaps inside. Suddenly, memories of the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hand of her boyfriend, Roger, surge to the fore, and immediately, her world becomes crystal clear. Julie springs into action, gives her anger free rein, takes control of her horse and, most importantly, no longer second-guesses herself. She has made it through and is convinced that with a lot of work and a lot of love, both she and Scarlet can “come back” from their traumas and heal.
Coming Back is a quick read that deals with the weighty topics of abuse and PTSD. Denman tells Julie’s story with impressive authenticity and sensitivity. Right from the beginning, I found myself rooting for Julie. She kept coming up against unsavoury characters, but her difficulties with them were necessary for her to grow and subsequently step into her power. The arc of Julie’s personal growth is both believable and inspiring. (And of course, I can’t resist a good horse story!)
Denman’s writing is clear and tight, and though she is writing for an audience who may find English a challenge, her story is certainly not lacking in tension, plot, believable dialogue, and many adrenaline-fuelled moments.
Read, for example, this intense excerpt taken from the triggering event that changes everything for Julie:
“Still resisting, eh?” There’s a look on his face…I’ve seen it before. A sneering, gloating smear of power. My heart drums. “Well, we’re going to fix that.” He yanks on the rope, and Scarlett drops like she’s been shot. Len closes in fast, circles behind her and shoves her head to the ground. “Lie down!”
Scarlet lies there groaning. It’s an awful, heaving sound. Len straddles her neck. Her nostrils flutter, and her flanks heave up and down with each laboured breath.
Somewhere, someone is screaming.
She raises her head, and his fist slams into her cheek. She flattens. And the world shatters.
I thoroughly enjoying reading Coming Back — a story of a young woman who, despite some serious setbacks, finds the will and subsequent strength to come back fully into her life. High five, K.L. Denman! (And now I want a horse.)
Carol Anne Shaw lives and writes in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. She is the author of the award-winning Hannah series, published in Vancouver by Ronsdale Press, and is an on-again-off-again part-time visual arts instructor at a local high school at Shawnigan Lake. When she isn’t writing, she is editing other people’s writing — young adult fiction being her specialty — or she is painting at her easel. She is particularly fond of mentoring young writers and helping them discover their own unique voice. A big lover of the outdoors, Carol Anne is no stranger to the myriad of forest trails that surround her home, a passion she shares with her (coffee-making) husband and their dog, Gordie. Editor’s note: Carol Anne Shaw reviewed books by Kristin Butcher, Shelley Hrdlitschka, Shannon Sinn, Darren Groth, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz, among others, for The Ormsby Review.
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