I’m really not an animal person. I don’t much like animals, and I don’t really own any. (My kids have a cat that’s supposed to stay outside, but that’s another story.) I never went through the junior high love of horses phase nor the phase that all my friends went through when they wanted to go to Texas A&M and become veterinarians. I haven’t ever read a single Marguerite Henry book all the way through.
However, I really, really enjoyed Pam Munoz Ryan’s new book, Paint the Wind, billed as “a breathtaking horse story in the enduring tradition of Marguerite Henry.” The story is told mostly from the point of view of Maya, an orphan whose parents died in a car accident and who lives with her insanely over-protective paternal grandmother. When Maya’s grandmother dies, Maya goes to live with her mother’s family, a family that Grandmother has always warned Maya to avoid because they “live with animals. Like animals.”
But, of course, it’s time for Maya to make her own way and come to terms with her mother’s family, a family of ranchers in Wyoming, and decide for herself whether she’s suited for the freedom and wide open spaces of the West.
Aunt Vi leaned back on her elbows, and her eyes turned wistful, like when she sang around the campfire.
‘Look around. Out here in all this bigness, every single thing matters and stands out. When the horses run against the wind with their manes and tails flying, I think they look like fleeting brushstrokes of color. I consider them the artists on this enormous outdoor canvas, making it more beautiful.'”
That description reminded me of West Texas where I grew up. Maybe that’s a part of my fondness for this story, but it’s only a part. Ms. Ryan does do a fine job of describing and placing the reader in the “bigness” of Wyoming ranching country. Here’s another example:
Maya . . . slowly turned in a circle and looked up at an endless and cavernous sky. There was far more heaven above her than there was earth below, and the horizon seemed worlds away. Without a white wall to define her boundaries, how would she ever know when she disappeared from someone’s view?”
I like that thought because I’ve felt the opposite. When I first came to Houston, I felt trapped and enclosed by all the trees. Even in the town in West Texas, it’s fairly easy to find a place where you can see the horizon stretching out in a long line in front of you, but here there is no horizon, just more and more trees. Too many boundaries. I’ve become accustomed to it for the most part, but I still feel a wonderful sense of freedom and limitless possibility when I drive out to West Texas and see the horizon out in the distance.
Paint the Wind is a book about boundaries and about freedom, about wild horses and the dangers and the advantages of running free. Aunt Vi tells Maya not to let the sky “swallow you up.” But she also advises Maya that some horses, at least, are better off in the wild even though it’s perilous and the horses are exposed to predators and to the whims of men who sometimes capture the wild horses in what’s called a “gather.” Interspersed throughout the book are several short chapters that are told from the point of view of Artemesia, lead mare of a wild horse band whose fate becomes intertwined with Maya’s.
Maya travels from sterile safety to adventure and excitement as the story progresses, and she grows from a spoiled, over-protected girl into a confident young lady. I found the story, the setting, and the characters intriguing and beautifully realized.
Paint the Wind is one of the nominees for the Cybil Award for Middle Grade Fiction.
Other bloggers reviews:
Camille at Book Moot, however, says “the book will have great appeal for those same horse loving book readers.”
Franki at A Year of Reading: “I always read for character–plot is secondary to me as a reader-and Maya will stay with me for a very, very long time.”