Opal Dreaming, by Karen Wood

‘WOOHOO!’ Jess slid down the front stair rail, her arms out wide, and landed expertly on the driveway. ‘Today’s the day!’
For the first time in weeks, the sky was a clear blue, and the air was still, not a breath of wind. The sun was warm on Jess’s face and everything about the day seemed perfect. She skipped to the feed shed, hauled out some hay and threw it over the fence. ‘Come on, Dodger, it’s time to go and get Opal!’
Dodger nickered to her and began snuffling at the hay. Jess stepped through the fence and gave the old stock-horse a big hug. ‘Eighteen months we’ve been waiting,’ she said, running her hands through his shaggy brown coat. ‘I can’t believe I can finally bring her home!’

Jess has been waiting for her new foal for so long, even before she was born and finally the day arrives. But a storm on the way home starts a whole chain of trouble for Opal. No matter how she tries, Jess cannot help but see what everyone else can see – there’s something wrong with the little filly. But as time for droving comes, no one can work out quite what the trouble is. Jess refuses to give up, even when it seems there is no hope. Meanwhile she gets a chance to join the drovers with her friends, even if it’s only as assistant camp cook and washergirl. It’s wonderful being out in the bush, droving the cattle and proving that she’s as good as the boys, but Jess can’t stop thinking about Opal and whether she’ll survive. Even when there are distractions like Luke…

Opal Dreaming is the third in the Diamond Spirit series and the second in Jess’s voice. The middle novel, ‘Moonstone Promise’ is told from Luke’s point of view. All the characters have grown and matured in the two years that have passed. Jess is just as horse-focussed as she was in ‘Diamond Spirit’, but her world is growing. She still longs for her ‘once in a lifetime’ horse, but she’s beginning to be aware of the personalities around her, their challenges and struggles. She’s always liked Luke, but from afar. Now’s she’s getting to know him properly. Lawson’s mare Marnie is mother to Opal, and technically Lawson still owns Opal. Jess and Lawson seem at loggerheads, and Jess begins to realise that he’s not just being difficult about handing over Opal. He’s concerned for her too. There are themes of family and trust and connection with land. The aboriginal characters in Opal Dreaming are not caricatures or conveniences, and help to communicate their deep connectedness with the ground. Recommended for secondary readers and anyone who loves horses.

Opal Dreaming , Karen Wood
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742373171

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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