Runaway marks the strong launch of Dandi Daley Mackall’s new series for tweens and teens, Starlight Animal Rescue. A prolific Christian children’s book author, her new series is in fact a spin-off series of the extraordinarily popular Winnie the Horse Gentler series. Young fans of the Winnie series will feel a sense of familiarity as Winnie makes cameo appearances through email in this new novel. The Starlight Animal Rescue series stands alone for new readers, I have not read the original series, and was in no way hindered by my lack of experience with the previous books.
Dakota Brown is a troubled 16-year-old girl. She is what’s known as a ‘runaway’, having absconded from seven previous foster homes. Arriving at her new foster home, a farm named “Starlight Animal Rescue”, she purposes to flee this new foster family at the first available opportunity. After encountering the Coolidges and their son, other foster children and a wide array of rescue animals, Dakota knows she’s never found herself in a home like this before.
Mackall has created a cast of quirky, loving characters and a family that I wouldn’t mind being part of! When confronted with the love of God as expressed through this new family and a horse that desperately needs her care, Dakota’s life begins to change. Her adoration for horses, previously only cerebral, becomes hands-on. Like many horse-girls before her, Dakota falls hard for all things horsey.
I read the carefully described interaction and communication between the various rescue animals and their human caretakers with fascination. Mackall’s experience as a horsewoman comes through in the detailed descriptions of the budding relationship between Dakota and the previously abused horse, Blackfire. A parallel relationship between the Coolidge’s soon-to-be-adopted foster daughter Kat and her charge Kitten provides similarly detailed behaviour for cat-lovers.
I’ve never considered myself a horse enthusiast, only having ridden twice in my life, yet the scenes that kept me blazing through this book were of the budding relationship between horse and rider. Apart from the scenes of animal companionship, Mackall weaves a sweet tale of transformation. As the wounded minister to the wounded, hearts soften, open, and blossom.
This is one title I chose not to read aloud with my children. While not at all inappropriate, some of the themes presented are beyond the ken of my five-year-old. The complex issues of abandonment, emotional wounds and abused animals would be potentially disturbing for my little girl, but are perfect for the target age group. Another point of interest for parents is the absence of the youthful romance that titles for young teenagers can often be overrun with – a blessing in my opinion.
This combination of themes would seem depressing if it weren’t for their collision with the unconditional love of God as expressed through the Coolidge family. God is in the ultimate rescue business, and the Coolidges are eager to partner with Him in His plans for these discarded children and animals. Annie and Chester (otherwise known as Popeye) Coolidge are so warm and quirky that I can’t wait to know them better through upcoming titles in this new series. I’m making a mental note of these titles for when my children reach their early teens.
Runaway is a winner and should be included on the fall reading lists of any horse loving girl, but don’t avoid this series if your child is male or doesn’t have a penchant for horses. From taking a peek at future titles, the main character and animal in each title will rotate through the human and animal inhabitants at Starlight Animal Rescue – girls, boys, horses, cats and dogs.