Leaping Hearts
by Jessica Bird, contemporary (2002)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-8041-1988-0

I don't understand what American and British women see in horses. Every woman from those countries that I know of talk about how they dream of having their own horses or ponies. They want to wear cute lil' Miss Equestrian Barbie outfits and name their horses Shadow or Spirit or Beauty, and they will win many cute trophies. Then again, I'm Malaysian, and we don't have horses here. When I was a kid, I wanted a helicopter with the most powerful missile launchers in the world. It was a good thing that I never had one, or else the house of Mrs Da Silva, my evil English teacher, would be a volcanic crater by now. I know, I know.

Anyway, all of you readers who still want a pony or secretly wishes to be the pink winged My Little Pony monster cartoon creature, you may want to check out Leaping Hearts, a debut - I think - from Jessica Bird. It has a pretty, pretty heroine and her pretty, pretty horse and pretty, pretty man. It even reads like a Very Young Adult Novel with Sex, where the good guys are pretty, pretty, pretty, and the bad guys are ugly, ugly, ugly, and your meanie big brother is so, so wrong. People aren't unhappy, they are "sad". People aren't ecstatic, they are "happy". Can you hear the music in the air? Sing with me now, lil' ones: "My little pony, my little pony and my ugly lil' friends..."

AJ Sutherland is beautiful, gorgeous, and she is the best rider eva! One day, she sees this horse, Sabbath, at a horse sale, and Sabbath is a Very Misunderstood Horse. Aj and Sabbath look into each other's eyes, and know, like, they are Soulmates Forever. How cute! So she buys the horse for thirty thousand dollars, and her meanie big brother Peter - heeheehee, his name is "Peter", how naughty, hee hee - is so angry. Meanwhile, the best horse trainer ever, Devlin McCloud, is like, wow, so handsome and manly, and when he and AJ meet, it's like, soulmates forever too. Aww.

But Devlin, like, awww, had an accident and had to put his horse to sleep like last year, so he is so hurt and will never love again, et cetera, like, you know, he's so broody and sexy and woo-woo...

(At this point, my brain shuts down completely.)


Seriously, this book is unbelievably girly, from the language to the Mary Sue Beautiful, Beautiful Characters squashed flat they aren't one-dimensional as much as half-dimensional. The bad people are either ugly, mean, or dandified, and I have no idea why Peter is so hell-bent on proving his sister wrong. Ms Bird, maybe you can look up "Character Motivation" under the dictionary? Love between AJ and Devlin is an instantaneous zoing-zoing-bling-bling thing between two perfection incarnate characters with nary any more character development in sight. This is young adult characterization at best - you start out with a perfect little girl and her perfect older boyfriend, and everyone else is a meanie.

Of course there will be a Life-Threatening Situation on the Horses finale. Of course these two perfect people will live happily ever after. The horse-love thing is overpowering here - I actually thought Devlin had to put down his wife at first, until I wondered why his wife had four legs and run in races and a big Duh crashes on my head from the sky. The horses here are described in the same (juvenile) enthusiastic passionate prose as - sometimes more passionate, actually - the way the author describes the passion between the human characters. In fact, the last sentence in this book isn't about AJ and Devlin living happily ever after, but the horse Sabbath having sex with many, many mares and making lots and lots of future champion thoroughbreds for Mommy and Daddy.

I'm sure there are many readers out there who will jump at the chance of reliving their Black Beauty love and pony dreams. Me, I wish I have a helicopter I always wanted and blast AJ and Devlin's annoying girly love story to kingdom come. Although to be fair, if AJ is Spoilt Princess Incarnate, I really believe she's in character. If you're the daughter of a family who can toss away $30,000 and suffer none the worse, won't you be spoiled as well? Still, speaking of childhood fantasies, if I have my Airhawk, these annoying creatures and their secret equine lovers will all be blown sky-high.

Rating: 57

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