Book Review: Valentino

valentino by laura hesse, really good horse books, new horse books

An Inspiring Story of Triumph & Survival

By Laura Hesse

Running L Productions, ISBN-13 978-0987734358. 228 pages, Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Reviewed by Margaret Evans

Amid the crashing surf, a yellow Labrador in a bright pink life jacket dragged a semi-conscious girl onto the beach. The dog’s tail hung limply between its hind legs. It circled once, and then twice, before settling down beside the girl, and resting its head and a paw across her chest. The dog closed its eyes against the sting of the icy rain. Eventually, exhaustion overtook it and it fell into a peaceful slumber despite the storm that raged around it.

A clip-clop sound, faint at first, and then growing louder as it approached, had the dog on edge. Her ears pricked up, tracking the sound….

Blind Maddie McCracken is about to turn 15 and, in family tradition, she chooses her birthday outing — a three-hour fun trip in the family’s Campion pleasure boat, Dawn Treader, with her father, Joseph. With them is Sammy, Maddie’s inseparable yellow Labrador and guide dog. They would motor north toward Gabriola and Texada Islands between British Columbia’s rugged mainland and Vancouver Island, before returning to Horseshoe Bay. It would to be a simple, fun day on the water.

Southwest of Texada Island, a fishing trawler, My Fair Lady, skippered by Haida seaman Ben Pete, with his son George and 16-year-old grandson August, is already bouncing through the waves of a swollen and angry sea as an unexpected storm builds to hurricane force. August has become defiant, refusing to go to school, and father and grandfather have decided that a day out fishing would teach him a lesson.

In Laura Hesse’s riveting book, Valentino, the tempest forces the two vessels into a devastating collision, and everyone is tossed overboard. But Sammy manages to stay close to Maddie, dragging her to safety on a beach on Jedidiah Island where a lone Quarter Horse finds them and offers company. 

Further up the island’s coastline, August crawls onto the beach, scoops a shallow bed in the earth beneath the firs, then rolls in, exhausted, afraid, in pain. But his Haida grandmother sings to him in whispers, the ancient prayer of their people. Touching his cheek in spirit, she gives August strength to take survival into his own hands.

This beautifully written, enthralling book follows the story of how Maddie, with her faithful Sammy, finds an abandoned farmhouse, cooking pots, a means to make fire, and learns where to find food on the beach. A friendship develops between her and the horse she calls Valentino, after St. Valentine’s Day and her birthday. With her beloved Sammy, she waits and prays for rescue, while fearing her father is lost.

The story intertwines between the survival struggles of the two teenagers, their panic-stricken families, and Maddie’s father who lies in a coma in hospital. But it is Valentino who takes Maddie on a life-saving ride to the camp of August, where the two meet and a bond is formed. August draws on his rich cultural heritage and the practical cooking skills learned from his mother and grandmother. Maddie draws on her gut instincts, and their shared belief that they will be rescued. Far away, on a rocky beach on Haida Gwaii, August’s family gather to sing to the life forces, rhythmically beating a drum decorated with the sacred raven. The climax is brilliant, and anyone would shed a tear of joy for the rescue plans.

Valentino was inspired by the true story of Will, a horse that lived his entire life on Jedidiah Island, and who remained along with some sheep and goats when his farming owners sold the Island to BC Provincial Parks. 

While Valentino is a great read for people of any age, it is an excellent book for tweens and youth. Anyone can identify with the indomitable spirit of Maddie and August. 

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