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The Perfect Distance    by Kim Ablon Whitney order for
Perfect Distance
by Kim Ablon Whitney
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Francie Martinez is a competitive rider. Her father Juan is a Mexican migrant worker who earned his way up the ladder to become barn manager at the West Hills Stables. To offset expenses of training with the strict, but well-known Rob Renaud, Francie works as a groom - cleaning tack, mucking stalls, and providing general care and feeding of the horses. Francie's goal is to win a lead spot at the Maclay Finals, and it is the last year in which she is eligible. Francie is proud of her Dad as one of the best barn managers and caretaker of horses, and he reciprocates in his feelings for her. Juan is collecting college brochures. However, Francie sees her future as a professional rider, and questions attending college, even one which offers horse-riding programs.

Seventeen and a high school senior, Francie is torn in several directions, in two places she feels she does not belong. In high school, Francie is a top-ranking student, and has one sort-of friend, Becca. When Becca invites Francie to join her and two male friends at the pizza parlor, there's a catch - a favor is requested, to provide a copy of last year's math test to Becca's boyfriend, whose grades are low. At West Hills, Francie's friend Katie (who is from a wealthy family) rides one of the best horses, Stretch, but is not the best of riders. The best, Tara, has an attitude of superiority. She quit school at sixteen, has supportive yet pushy parents, and her dad has a drinking problem. But Tara is Rob's favorite rider, always being cheered and applauded. Francie hopes that one day Rob will throw kudos her way for a change, instead of constantly berating her and other riders for not making the perfect distance. Enter Colby from Los Angeles who is a fine rider and cute! Francie is attracted to him. Colby becomes her confiding friend, which adds complications as Katie likes him too.

Whitney, herself a licensed equestrian judge and competitor, offers a well-written, pleasurable read, whose main character is a standout with emotional, mental, and physical challenges. The lesson is - learning to believe in oneself, and with confidence, becoming the person one wants to be. Whitney also incorporates a wealth of information on equitation ranging from terminology to the rigors of boot camp training, and especially seeing the perfect distance.

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