Zilpha Keatley Snyder 247 pp. Delacorte 3/98 ISBN 0-385-32267-4 15.95 (Intermediate)
Both the hardships of life as a ward of the state and the exhilaration Of working with horses imbue the life of ten-year-old Gibson Whittaker. No one ever returns to Lovell House Home for Orphaned and Abandoned Boys once he has been adopted by a family, but the boys sadly learn that adoption is too often a euphemism for being farmed out--and mistreated--as indentured servants. When Gib leaves Lovell House and its new cruel headmistress to live on the Thornton ranch, he dreams of becoming part of the family, but also bears in mind the harsher possibility. Snyder has enlisted all the elements of an upstairs-downstairs family melodrama in her portrayal of the Thorntons: a home full of "disagreement and unhappiness," with a hard, unlikable overlord; his kind wheelchair-bound wife, paralyzed in a riding accident, their angry and sullen daughter; a crippled hired hand; a good-natured cook; and a seemingly severe governess--all of whom know the family secrets many of which center on Gib's entrance into their lives. Naturally, it falls to Gib to tame Black Silk, the unruly mustang responsible for Mrs. Thornton's paralysis. Though the book teeters on the brink of sentimentality, Snyder invests her characters with enough dimension not only to save the story but actually to have us cheering her happy resolution.