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May 28, 2013
Read this YA Book If…
The Scorpio Races
by Erin Cowles

This weekend, I'm beach camping with my family at Assateague Island, known for both its beauty and its ill-tempered wild horses. Naturally, I decided this was the perfect time to pick up Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, a twist on a Celtic myth about flesh-eating fairy horses that the ocean spits up. Apparently, I thought camping with my toddler and preschooler wouldn't be enough of an adventure — I needed to embellish the horses a little, too.

Before I go any farther, I know what you're thinking: “Didn't Maggie Stiefvater write those awful werewolf romance books? And why do I want to read about killer horses? That sounds weird.” I thought the same thing until I read it. The Scorpio Races are worth your time.

On the fictional island of Thisby, every October the Capaill Uisce emerge from the ocean. They are horse-like, but larger, meaner, and much more prone to eating the nearest human. And every October, men capture the Capaill Uisce and attempt to tame them for the Scorpio Races and its lucrative cash prize.

The narration in this story alternates between two competitors: Sean Kendrick, four-time winner of the races, and Kate “Puck” Connolly, who has entered the races to try to keep her home and keep her orphaned siblings together. Although the races hold the story together, this is really a coming-of-age story about fighting for what you want, staying true to yourself, and relating to the place that made you what you are.

For me, the best part of the book was the setting. Stiefvater nailed the feel of a small Celtic island. I like that she captured the grit and determination of the locals, the allure of the mainland to the youth, the competing religious traditions that somehow coexist, and the complicated relationships that occur between people that have always known each other and always will.

The setting gave her story a timeless feel. I don't see much of that in the YA genre, which tends to either revel in its of-the-moment appeal or reject our current world entirely. I feel like if I just pretend the Capaill Uisce are the wild horses I'll see this weekend, the island itself could really exist, and it could exist this way any time after the model T.

I also loved the way Stiefvater made the mythology her own. Although some criticize authors like Stiefvater for playing fast and loose with mythology, anyone that has spent any time studying it knows that myths have always changed with the storyteller. Stiefvater selected the parts of the myth that contributed to the story, and cut the things that would have detracted.

I, for one, don't feel like I'm missing out because there are no scenes where the horses turn into men and seduce unsuspecting maidens into the water to eat them. If that's your thing, well, I'm sure your local B movie rental store has something that will satisfy that need.

All in all, this is a great stand-alone adventure story with strong character development, pitch-perfect writing, and a beautifully drawn setting.

Read this book if...

Target audience: Ages 14-18.

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