Scholastic Press, February 2016
Guilt is a heavy burden, even more so when you’re a teenager with two sisters and are part of a family teetering on the edge of losing everything. That’s life for Astrid Sullivan. Both her dead grandfather and her dad turned family stability into chaos because of their gambling addictions. With her father laid off and jobs for blue collar workers almost nonexistent, her family is falling apart and about to lose their home..again. Older sister Dani is escaping by spending all her time with a boyfriend, while Mom deals with stress by sneaking out at night and taking care of the neighborhood gardens. Home life stress is exacerbated because everyone’s avoiding talking about it.
Astrid and her best friend, Magnolia, who aspires to become a small businesswoman by selling her artful hair decorations, started hanging out near the racetrack when they were thirteen and have spent the past five years watching the mechanical horses, called titans, race. Astrid is a math whiz and spends part of her racetrack time using that skill to calculate how jockies could better run a race.
When she and Magnolia help an older man who is dizzy and weak while at the races one afternoon, little do they know that it’s the start of an adventure of a lifetime. Rags, the man they helped, and his friend Barney, have a secret. They have an early model Titan, one with artificial intelligence, something the newer 3.0 models don’t have. When the announcement that one rider will receive an entry into this year’s race series with the $50,000 fee waived, the men ask Astrid if she’s interested. Is water wet? Heck yes, she’s interested, especially with a $2 million prize up for grabs.
How they get a horse that has been sitting unused for years, into shape, how Astrid and Magnolia get mentored in social skills, what pitfalls are involved as the races get more competitive and how her choice affects her family life, make this an incredible read. Teens (and adults) who love a great adventure yarn with lots of action will devour the book. I could not put it down.
Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.