Monday, August 28, 2017

Audiobook Review: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

Title: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
Author: Megan Shepherd
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Pages: 220
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There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. In the mirrors that line its grand hallways, which once belonged to a princess. In those that reflect the elegant rooms, now filled with sick children. It is her secret.

One morning, when Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens, she discovers something incredible: a white horse with broken wings has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

Tucked into the garden’s once-gleaming sundial, Emmaline finds a letter from the Horse Lord. He is hiding the wounded white horse, named Foxfire, from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep the Black Horse from finding her new friend, she must collect colorful objects with which to blind him. But where can Emmaline find color when her world is filled with gray?

Emmaline lives in Briar Hill Hospital, a building that once housed a princess and now houses sick children. Emmaline has a secret - there are winged horses that live in the mirrors at Briar Hill, and only Emmaline can see them. While sneaking around the grounds one day, Emmaline stumbles across a beautiful white winged horse with an injured wing. She then receives a letter from the Horse Lord, explaining that the injured horse, Foxfire, is hiding from the mysterious Black Horse. The Horse Lord urges Emmaline to help save Foxfire by gathering as much color as she can to deter the Black Horse. Emmaline then goes on a hunt through the bleak halls of Briar Hill to find color and save Foxfire.

I had never heard of The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, but when I was looking for a quick and easy audiobook, I figured I would give it a try. I am so glad I did. This book was so lovely. It was enchanting, yet heartbreaking, and beautifully written. I have never read any books by Megan Shepherd before, but now I definitely want to give some of her young adult books a try.

Emmaline is our narrator throughout this story, but she is quite an unreliable one. We never really know if the mysterious horses that she sees in the mirrors actually exist, or if what she sees is a coping mechanism to help her deal with her illness. Regardless, going on this adventure with Emmaline is so much fun. Her belief in the horses is so strong and her desire to save Foxfire so real that the reader gets sucked into her quest and roots for her to succeed.

One of my favorite things about this book was the beautiful way that dark themes were handled in something aimed at a younger audience. The children that occupy Briar Hill Hospital are all sick - mostly with tuberculosis - and will most likely all die at a young age. Not only are these children facing their illnesses, but they are also living during the height of World War II. They have all been separated from their families. Some have already lost family members to the war, and some may die before the war is over. These children have to learn how to face their own mortality, while also mourning their family members and trying to understand the scope of what is happening in the world around them. These are all things that no child should ever have to deal with at such a young age. Megan Shepherd does a fantastic job of explaining these themes in ways that young readers can understand and cope with.

While the audiobook was lovely, I appear to have once again missed out on beautiful illustrations in the physical book. I wish I had been able to see the illustrations as I was listening to this story. I think it would have added a layer of whimsy to the story and really enhanced the reading experience. I definitely recommend The Secret Horses of Briar Hill for readers both young and old. I will most certainly be checking out some of Megan Shepherd's other works in the future.