By: Barbara Bryan
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: March 21, 2023
Review Date: May 1, 2023
Topanga Canyon: Fire Season is Barbara Bryan’s compelling story that showcases the struggles with "coming of age" as much as it exposes the egregious reality of trauma inflicted on the magnificent Tennessee Walking Horse in order for them to manage their high-stepping maneuvers in the show ring.
Matt Barrett is a fourteen-year-old who has become a ball and chain to his alcoholic mother and her aspirations to pursue the musical career she always wanted. Mom has made plans to chase her dreams with her creepy boyfriend Shane and is on her way to Las Vegas. No time like the present to ship Matt off to his grandfather Silas Phillips' ranch in Topanga Canyon. Matt has plenty of time to think about his future as he watches the landscape change through the Greyhound bus window on his way to California. He left his home in Chicago early Sunday morning and hasn’t stopped checking his cell phone screen for the familiar ‘mom’ to pop up on the screen. Las Vegas has come and gone which means Matt is closer to his destination. He is angry and sad at the same time. He can’t figure out why his mother would ship him off to his grandfather’s ranch. More importantly, he wonders why his mother never had much to say about her father Silas Phillips. Matt is angry and doesn’t plan to hang around the ranch too long before he insists his mother come and get him and take him home.
When Matt arrives at the bus station in Los Angeles, not only is it pouring rain, but he is hungry and has no money. He’s also not sure where he is supposed to meet his grandfather. For that matter, he’s not even sure what he looks like. One-by-one he watches passengers connect with their rides and leave the station. When Matt realizes he is virtually the only person left who hasn’t united with his ride, he grows concerned. Thankfully, a kind looking man approaches him and offers to share his umbrella and buy Matt breakfast at the diner across the street. The man is dressed in a business suit and seems pretty harmless, yet there’s something about him that doesn’t feel right. As Matt fumbles with his cell phone that is about to die, and a stranger who is becoming more than persistent with his ‘random act of kindness,’ a pickup truck with the emblem: ‘High-Stepping Ranch’ pulls up to the curb. When Matt sees the man behind the wheel doesn’t look anything like his grandfather, he waivers. Should he join the nice man who offered him breakfast...or should he get into the truck he thinks is his grandfather’s, but doesn’t know the man driving? This is only the beginning of a visit that will be nothing less than memorable and life-changing for Matt.
Ms. Bryan brilliantly captures the adolescent trials and tribulations of a fourteen-year-old boy learning how to cope and deal with emotions. When she joins this premise with the wisdom and guidance of the magnificent horse, Topanga Canyon: Fire Season is a most enjoyable read. As the story unfolds, Ms. Bryan does a terrific job of anchoring the plot with the introduction of the character Matt Barrett and his resistance toward being shipped off to his grandfather’s horse ranch. To keep the plot moving along, Ms. Bryan introduces the egregious practice of soring on Tennessee Walking Horses. A basic definition of soring is the (illegal) act of deliberately inflicting pain to exaggerate the leg motion of horses to gain an unfair advantage in the show ring when the horse displays the ‘chest-high’ stride achieved when implementing this practice—known in show circuits as the ‘big lick.’ The educational value in this read is tremendous thanks to Ms. Bryan’s artful ability to draw the curtain back on the diabolical acts some equestrians will go to in order to "take home the blue." The dialogue exchanges are believable and there are many thought-provoking moments that showcase the perspective from both an adult point of view as well as the adolescent point of view. Thank you for an engaging story that is of interest for young adults as much as grown adults.
Quill says: Topanga Canyon: Fire Season is a heartfelt story that portrays not only the challenges with coming of age, but also the notion that all that glitters isn’t necessarily ‘gold’ in the winner’s circle.
For more information on Topanga Canyon: Fire Season, please visit the author's website at: https://bbryanwrites.com/