The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, 2011
There are a few ways that I know for sure that I love a book. One is if I’m speeding through, devouring pages like I’ll suffocate if I don’t, and I get through the entire thing in few (but admittedly long) sittings. Another is if it's like The Fault in Our Stars and I feel completely destroyed, but in a good way. A third is if I want to power through, but I can’t because the book is challenging me, making me think, toying with my emotions ever so delicately that I don’t realize it’s happening until after it’s already happened. When it pains me to have to put in my bookmark, but I need to anyway because I have to stop and reflect on what I’ve read, the questions being asked, and generally pull myself together before I can keep going.
The Scorpio Races, the newest novel by Maggie Stiefvater, definitely falls into the third category for me.
On the small island of Thisby (whose location is never specified, but I get a very English/Irish-area vibe from it), life revolves around the first of November. That’s when the Scorpio Races are held, the annual event in which men race down the beach on the backs of capaill uisce – the mysterious and incredibly powerful water horses. To say the races and the month leading up to it is dangerous is an understatement – deaths are common, expected.
Sean Kendrick, a 19 year old and four-time champion, has a mystical talent for working with these creatures. People don’t always understand him, but water and land horses alike do. But Puck Connolly has had her own experiences. Both of her parents were killed by the capaill uisce and now everything she knows and loves might be taken away. So she does the unthinkable, becoming the first girl to ever enter the races and with a regular horse, no less.
Stiefvater paints the most incredible pictures with her words, full of incredible depth and feeling. The landscape and characters are so rich with detail, but it's never overwhelming because it's all tied in among exquisite dialoge and action. Readers hear the story from both Puck and Sean, their individual stories blending together in a patient and subtle way that leaves me in awe. They are each strong in their own ways, and it was interesting to see how the same event and characters can be seen so differently through each of their eyes.
It’s a book about water horses, but it’s also about so much more than that. It’s about our relationships with our family and friends, sacrifice, choices, strength, weakness, home, and what makes each of us who we are. By the end of this book, I was in choked up and had tears welling up in my eyes, and let me just say that that is not something that happens too often, so it’s a memorable occasion when it does. (January seems to be the month of books that make me cry.)
A book for boys and girls, young adults and the young at heart, The Scorpio Races is a book that is absolutely deserving of the accolades and recognition it’s been getting, most recently being a Printz Honor for excellence in YA literature.
Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading.