Pony by R. J. Palacio
R.J. Palacio burst onto the YA fiction scene with the runaway smash hit of Wonder in 2012. It was subsequently made into a film with Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as the parents of the ‘wonder’ himself, Augie. As a fan of the first book, this second book brought some trepidation. How can Palacio follow up such a classic YA fiction text that has captivated so many around the world? Answer: You don’t. You go in a completely different direction.
Set in the 1860s, Pony is the remarkably well-researched story of 12-year old Silas Bird, a young mid-Western American boy who has a close encounter with a gang of robbers who are looking for Silas’s father. Silas also has a best friend who is with him constantly, the ghost Mittenwool. It seems that Silas has the ability to see and speak with spirits who at times scare him, but also help him in times of need. Mittenwool, however, is his constant companion and provides care and support to Silas when he most needs it. Despite seeming a little far fetched, it really works as a narrative tool as it adds a really fascinating dimension to the whole scenario.
Told in the first person, we follow Silas as he attempts to save his father who has been captured by bandits under what Silas believes to be false pretences. As part of the process he meets the beautiful Arabian Pony aptly named ‘Pony’ (despite many other possible options explored). Pony becomes Silas’s companion much like Mittenwool is, looking out for him and caring for him. An unlikely trio on an adventure-filled quest.
A good proportion of the time with Silas’s father focuses on his inventiveness and his scientific brain. Together, they spend a long time creating a photographic camera and telescope to best capture the moon in its closest orbit to the earth. It is this, and other, stories that really give you a sense of his father’s prowess with all things technological - which becomes an important part of the reason he is taken by these bandits.
The story has everything, from curmudgeonly sage guides, to supernatural, to shoot outs, to relational developments between the characters. There is something for all readers here, and certainly not just the young.
It’s a fantastic story, well written, and expertly presented. There is no doubt that Pony has all the elements required to be another top seller for Palacio. It really is a wonder.
Reviewer: Chris Reed