Thea Atwell is banished to an elite equestrian boarding school where she starts an affair with the school's headmaster even as she comes to terms with the disastrous incestuous relationship that got her sent away in the first place. Thea Atwell is the newest student at The Yonahlossee Riding School and Summer Camp for Girls. It is part finishing school, part equestrian camp where the richest families in the South have squirreled away their daughters as their fortunes begin to collapse at the start of the Great Depression.
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Fifteen year old Thea arrives in the middle of the night, sent away from her beloved Floridian home by her parents and her twin brother as punishment for the mysterious crime she has committed against them. The narrative splits into two here—Thea makes friends and enemies of the other girls at camp and in flashback, recalls the fraught months leading up to the incident that drove a wedge between her and her family.
It is revealed that Thea is racked with guilt over the memory of the incestuous affair that began between her and her cousin Georgie. He begins as her only friend, but as they grow into precocious teenagers, he becomes her secret lover. Their doomed romance comes to a violent end when they are discovered by Thea's twin, Sam. Enraged, Sam attacks Georgie, beating him nearly to death. Having shamed her parents, Thea is banished to Yonahlossee.
Gradually Thea stops seeing her time at the school as a punishment. She proves to be a talented equestrian and wins riding competitions and the respect of her school mates. She also captures the special attention of the school's handsome young headmaster, Mr. Holmes. When his wife leaves on a trip to drum up donations for the failing school, Thea and Mr. Holmes start an illicit relationship of their own. However Thea refuses to be the cause of another broken home and ultimately she leaves Yonahlossee to return to her family and show them that she is no longer ashamed of her own passion and power.
Best part of story, including ending:
Thea stumbles from one improbable relationship to another without ever really learning anything
Best scene in story:
Thea's brazen affair with her cousin Georgie is finally discovered by her twin brother Sam. Sam attacks Georgie while Thea stands by, desperate to stop them but powerless against the violence she has caused.
Opinion about the main character:
Thea views herself as a victim of circumstance rather than the source of the problems she encounters.