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.