Thursday 7 September 2023

Honey and the Valley of Horses

Honey and the Valley of Horses by Wendy Orr (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN: 9781-761068492

Reviewed by Kellie Nissen

An enchanted valley. A family lost. A way home.

Imagine going away with your family for a trip and not being able to get back home again – ever. Not because you are lost but because you seem to be stuck inside an invisible – and impenetrable – bubble.

It’s not like Honey, her parents, NanNan, and her brother Rumi are stuck in an awful place. Quite the contrast, the valley is beautiful; the family are self-sufficient, there are horses to ride and, despite being cut-off from society with no mobile phone coverage or other contact, the family are happy.

But seven years is a long time.

At first glance, Honey and the Valley of Horses, by master storyteller Wendy Orr, seems like a gentle and magical story of a family making their life in an enchanted place. It’s a quiet story, with beautiful descriptions but with nothing much in the way of excitement or adventure happening.

Then, as you read, you start to piece together the clues: text messages from unknown characters, asking for the family to contact them; the mention of an ‘illness’; and the growing fear that there will be no world, no people, left to return to. Wendy Orr has clearly created a story in response to the Covid pandemic and the fear and isolation it caused – but one which could easily be a response to other issues we face in our world.

Wendy Orr gives us two engaging child characters in Honey and her younger brother Rumi, and a relatable cast of supporting adult characters, drawing us into their world and cheering for Honey in the edge-of-your-seat climax.

In all honesty, I’ve never been a ‘horse-story’ reader and I’m unlikely to have selected this book from the shelf based on its title and cover (beautifully illustrated by Martina Heiduczek) – but I urge readers to look beyond this. To read past the gently slow beginning and even re-read sections to experience the depth and multiple layers of this book.

Targeted at a mid-grade audience, Honey and the Valley of Horses offers entertainment, insight and the opportunity for reflection on many levels for readers of all ages, for many generations to come.

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