By the time I was twelve, I had an apocalypse plan.
It wasn’t detailed, mind you, but that’s okay, because if dystopian fiction can agree on one thing about the future, it’s that we don’t know what the apocalypse will look like, just there will definitely be one.
I don’t think much about apocalypses anymore, and so I have been puzzling over why the current trend in literature for young adults is to write about horrible, post-apocalyptic landscapes and totalitarian city-states. But I suppose, in thinking about my own childhood apocalypse plan, that children (or tweens, or teens, as we should now refer to them) are naturally interested in the end of the world. They’re learning at younger and younger ages about the influence of consumerism, politics, warfare, environmental disturbances, while they’re still coming to terms with the concept of mortality. It’s natural that they would want to explore these topics.
Or something like that.
At any rate, my apocalypse plan was simply to do what I liked to do: train horses. In the event of emergency, proceed directly to the stable. I figured that any sort of worst-case-scenario would involve a disruption to fuel and electricity, and bingo, we’d revert straight back to an agrarian society. I always pictured it looking something like the eighteenth century, or Amish country. And all the pencil-pushers would be desperate for that skill they’d lost and now needed: horsekeeping and training.
Well, then I read my first novel to fall under the “Young Adult dystopian” genre heading, and I saw my business opportunity fading. I hadn’t counted on there not being any horses.
In her evocative novel The Girl Who Remembered Horses, Linda Benson proves that she thought things through a little bit more than my twelve-year-old self, embracing the possibility that in a world ravaged by mysterious calamity, we might lose those majestic animals that walk a fine line between the wild and the domesticated.
The Girl Who Remembered Horses centers around a twelve-year-old girl, raised by her older sister and grandfather, who belongs to a clan of traders. Wandering an arid region and served by dogs, not horses, the members of the trading clan seek out the buried treasure of the industrialized past. Herds of wild horses sometimes go wheeling by on the plains, but they’d no more try to tame a horse than a gazelle.
But the girl, Sahara, has the horse bug. She dreams of horses, feels their coat beneath her fingers, feels their bodies as she sits astride them, feels the wind in her face as she gallops across the plain. Madness, her clan proclaims, all madness, just as so many confused parents, generations removed from the farms, look at their whinnying, cantering daughters skipping around the backyard and wonder where that horse-obsession could have come from. But it was even worse for Sahara: no one even knew horses could be tamed.
“Horses!” someone called out.
Sahara had heard the word. Horses—rare creatures hardly ever seen since the Dark Days. A chill went through her body. Something stirred deep within her that she could not comprehend. Although this was the first time in her entire twelve years that she had seen real horses, they felt achingly familiar.
“There goes enough meat for the entire clan.”
Sahara shook her head. As the tangle of wild legs disappeared quickly into the horizon, she felt a thrill, a sense of recognition. Not a hunter’s thrill, not a meat-in-the-stewpot thrill, but a closeness, a feeling of kinship and protection.
Not the sort of thing a twelve-year-old girl can tell her older sister about.
And then someone gives her a book. A tattered, precious thing, with symbols useless to illiterate Sahara, but illustrated with pictures of horse and rider, proving that her crazy dreams mean something real. Obsessed with antique books myself, I like to imagine it as a tall, slim hard-cover from the 1950s, with the drawings as pencil lines, perhaps by Sam Savitt. Whatever it looks like, Sahara determines to use the book to capture and tame a wild horse. A job easier said than done.
But like all girls with the horse bug, Sahara will not be stopped.
Reading this book, I was struck by how delicate our relationship with horses truly is. We are close partners, we are respected leaders, we are members of the herd… but horses all have that streak of wildness lying below the surface. In some it is closer to the top than in others. It was interesting to me that in Sahara’s world, when the bond with horses was lost, the bond with dogs remained strong. Dogs are worshipful creatures; they adore working for humans. Horses choose to do it. After you have proven yourself worthy of them.
The Girl Who Remembered Horses is available as an ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all other major ebook retailers. Linda Benson’s site, with info on upcoming and previously published books, is http://www.lindabenson.net/