Starlight Animal Rescue: Dark Horse by Dandi Daley Mackall
Geared Towards: Ages 8-12
Published By: Tyndale House
Publication Date: February 2009
I picked this series up midway through, and have now read both the third and fourth installments without having first read the debut and second book. NOTE TO SELF: Must remedy that asap. Dark Horse the fourth book in Mackall's Starlight Animal Rescue series told a gripping story with heartfelt emotion. And the focus the author had her characters put on God was powerful and moving.
Hank is not a new character to the Starlight series, but in this book we see him in a new light. Previously the role readers have seen Hank cast in was that of a strong leader, someone with huge amounts of compassion, and a great knack for keeping the positive perspective. But in Dark Horse we see him for the true person he is - human, flawed, and a boy on his way to becoming a man. He is still compassionate and loving, yet we are all human and even the best of us can't maintain a totally cheery outlook on life every waking second of every day.
Even as the dominant child in the Coolidge household, Hank was not raised to inhuman or godly proportions. Like anyone else, he is only as strong as he feels. And when the Starlight Animal Rescue finds itself recovering from a terrible fire that destroyed the barn and everything, non-living, within it Hank finds himself struck down with grief, guilt, fear, and anguish. The ranch can't survive without a place to house the rescues. Not to mention it's nearly Thanksgiving which means Winter is only a short matter of weeks, if that, away. What will the Coolidge's do if they have no place safe and warm, away from nature's elements, for their horses to stay once the storms of Winter arrive?
Hank is only a boy, but he feels the urgency of the situation can not be ignored. Everyone else in the Coolidge household recognizes the importance of rebuilding as quickly as possible; however, their faith in God keeps them positive that all will come together in the end. Hank though has a hard time putting his stock in God. He believes in Him, but his faith isn't as strong as the others. Because of that, Hank feels a nearly unbearable burden to accomplish everything on his own without giving God a chance to take the load from his shoulders. Unable or unwilling to cast his cares upon the Lord, Hank struggles to keep it together and to not go off on his family. Every time they seem lax in their planning or actions Hank wants to scream. He can't do it alone, and if no one else will help him in the way he feels is necessary then he's never going to have the barn up in time.
Compounding Hank's stress is the emotion he feels regarding his rescue, Cleo. Already an abused and injured beast, Cleo was brought to Starlight so she could be free from the terror and pain she'd come to know. But when the fire started, Cleo panicked and in doing so trapped herself inside the burning barn. Hank and his father were eventually able to free her from the structure before it became completely engulfed in the flames, but not before the horse was totally panick-stricken and injured. Now being kept in a field down the road, Cleo remains in a state of wild terror. Hank initially tried to calm the horse, but agitation coursed through her veins making it impossible for him to get near her.
The world weighs heavy on Hank Coolidge, and even a visit from his cousin Catman and Winnie the Horse Whisper doesn't help break Hank from the funk he's allowed himself to get in. What Hank needs is to recognize he is not responsible. What he needs is to know he's not alone. What he needs is God. God is already there, waiting to exchange Hank's grief and feelings of responsibilty for peace and comfort. Will Hank give Him the chance?
This was another incredible story by Mackall. Even though the primary focus of this story was on Hank, all of the other characters each played an integral part in the story. Catman, the ever laid back flower child-esque, one of the bunch brings a lot of calming energy to the story. The brother's Mr & Mr Coolidge bring the laughter with their silly jokes. Kat and Dakota brings their new found faith, strong and beautiful as it is. And Winnie brings with her a wealth of knowledge and perspective. I think Mackall's set up for this installment in the Starlight series couldn't have been done any better. I found myself really aching for Hank (and for Kat and Winnie), as no person- yound or old- should ever have to suffer the feelings of helplessness that Hank felt.
What I love best about these books is that the author really seems to know her characters and her audience. Just because the books are Christian based does not mean that all readers are going to be solidly grounded in a Christ centered life. Even if they are, we are all human, as Mackall so seemlessly shows in this story. Not one of us is perfect, and we all have moments where we should cry out to God to ask for forgiveness, favor, and guidance. Giving up the reins and saying, "I don't know how to do this, Lord; I put it in your hands." is not an easy feat. I'm an adult who has grown up in the church and I still struggle with this frequently. As a child, trying to be independent and willing oneself into adulthood, the pressure to measure up and be self sufficient can be all the more overwhelming. I think it's great that Mackall shows this need through her characters, but then also shows how simple and beneficial it can be to rely a little more on God.
OUR RATING: 5 hearts