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Review: ‘Grand Theft Horse’

Though this title has been sitting on my bedside for some time, I just kept passing it over because I’m a city girl and this was a story about a horse. It just seemed like there was something else to read that I would be more interested in… Well, I was very wrong. I should have picked this up months ago!

Grand Theft Horse
By G. Neri and Corban Wilkin
Lee and Low Books, 2018
PBK, $19.95

Yes, this is about horses, but it’s about a lot more. It’s about passion. Sticking to your beliefs. Sacrificing for your beliefs. Trying to make a difference—even in a small way. As I begin learning about the struggle for Civil Rights with my students in honor of Black History Month, I can compare the story of Grand Theft Horse, because Gail Ruffo gave up so much for what she believed in and what she knew was right, much like so many citizens did during the Civil Rights era. And it costs. Fighting for your beliefs costs a lot.

Gail Ruffo loved horses. That was all she wanted as a child, but she moved a lot and it was only for a short time in Texas that she was able to have a horse of her own. But then her father’s work took the family to Europe and she had to give up the horse. She did not give up the passion. She learned from the Europeans about Dressage and the manner in which they kept horses.

Gail returned to the United States and entered the world of horse racing. It’s a business where trainers ride their horses hard and drug them to keep them going. Gail was certain there was another way. When she found Perfect Envoy, she knew she couldn’t afford to buy him on her own and went into partnership with some people she knew, on condition that she would train and race the horse in the way she saw fit. But the other partners wanted to race him early and hard and drug him, and were headed to killing the horse, so Gail took matters into her own hands and hid the horse.

The other partner kept after Gail, abusing the system to punish her, even getting her license revoked so she couldn’t work. She was charged with Grand Theft Horse (still a charge in California! A law from the 1850s.) All the while, she kept the horse hidden and safe.

This fascinating true story isn’t directly told for teens. Gail is in her mid 50s when this was all going on. And the story is about an adult world. But this story plays to the compassion and righteousness that teens possess. I think the story will grip them.

The artwork is just breathtaking. Told in two tones of brown and white, Gayle’s story comes alive on the page. Sometimes, when I read a graphic novel, I find myself focusing more on the words than the art, but in this case, the lines and action, especially the spirited and lively Gail and the many horses that are portrayed in this story, jump out at you.

This title made it to the 2019 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Lists and it has a solid place there. A great read and addition to your bookshelf—to get your righteousness moving.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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