If you are a horse-loving tweenager, Stacy Gregg is a rockstar. With her crazily popular Pony Club Secrets and Pony Club Rivals series and her more recent stand-alone novels, Stacy is one of New Zealand’s most popular children’s authors; both in New Zealand and overseas. Fans were queuing up to buy her newest release, The Thunderbolt Pony, last month without even needing to know the title or the plot; she is that popular.
Stacy’s newest novel is the first by her to be set in New Zealand. And what a tale it tells. Twelve year old Evie, already battling obsessive compulsive disorder after the recent death of her father, faces a new trauma when the Kaikoura earthquake strikes. Evie’s house in the small town of Parnassus is destroyed and her mother is badly injured, needing medical evacuation. When Evie is told she needs to flee the devastation with her neighbours to get to Kaikoura to meet a navy ship, she refuses to abandon her beloved animals and is determined to find a way to stay together. And thus begins her epic trek with her faithful pony Gus, feisty cat Moxy, and loyal dog Jock.
This is a thrilling read. The description of the physical experience of the big quake and its many aftershocks felt much too familiar. There were also far too many heart-in-throat moments of peril and danger. I found myself reading ‘just one more page’ on several occasions because I couldn’t bear to put the book down until I knew all of our animals were safe.
As well as the overarching plot about animals and earthquakes, there is a sub-story about Evie’s anxiety issues and counselling sessions. Stacey handles the topic of mental health with grace and empathy. Evie’s challenges with OCD and anxiety are not minimised nor used for comedic purposes. Her suffering is real and its treatment is explored gently and kindly, through the metaphor of Greek mythology.
This would be an extremely useful book to use to open a dialogue with children if they are facing any similar mental health challenges of their own, whether or not their anxiety is caused by a bereavement or earthquakes. Our hero is a great role model for anyone battling anxiety; she comes through her ordeal stronger and wiser: ‘… you could waste your life just waiting for the future to happen. Sometimes we’re so busy anticipating things, we miss out on the moment that we’re living in right now.’
Evie’s story is one of courage, friendship, overcoming obstacles, and learning that there are some things we cannot control. It is an adventure story, an animal story, and a very New Zealand story; a great read for Kiwi kids and overseas friends.
Review by Tiffany Matsis
The Thunderbolt Pony
by Stacey Gregg
Published by HarperCollins