After her one and only friend is adopted from the all-boys orphanage Charlotte had the misfortune to land in after her parents death; she makes up her mind to run away before she ends up on kitchen duty for the rest of her life. Posing as a boy Charlotte is able to find a job doing what she loves most, tending horses, which then also offers her the opportunity to put as much distance as possible between her and the orphanage. As an adult Charlotte must continue living as a man if she hopes to make her dream of owning a ranch a reality, but with people from her past appearing in her life again and yet another accident her dreams seemed destined to be only that, dreams.
Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan is another throwback re-read for me. It is from way back when I was six or seven in the fifth grade (so around thirteen years ago). Sadly I don’t have my original copy of the book, but Riding Freedom – I think – is the first book I ever owned in my life; I’m like 99.9 percent sure that it was.
This book is definitely one of my favorites, thirteen years hasn’t changed that. I knew that I was going to like reading it just as much this time around as I did the first time because it is one of those books that I think about from time to time. Although it targets children as its main audience I think both children and adults can relate to Charlotte, and I also think both groups can stand to learn a thing or two from this book. Apart from generally being good storytelling, the book also teaches an important lesson about a significant figure in American history.
There is not much that I didn’t like about this book. I mean there were definitely things that I wanted there to be more of, but the book does fine without them too. For example, I would have liked for there to be more character interactions. More dialogue. With how the story is told we still get a general feel for how special some of the other characters are to Charlotte but I would have liked to hear more from those characters directly rather than through Charlotte’s thoughts about them.
Vern had named all the horses himself. He always said that naming something was important. That a name ought to stand for something. And that a horse should have a fine name fit for a fine animal.”Charlotte pg. 15/Pam Munoz Ryan
One of the reasons I really like Riding Freedom is because Charlotte is a likable character. She is not whiney, though she has so many reasons to be, given her situation. I like that when life got hard she didn’t just sit back and take it. She basically said, I’m going to make my life a whole lot harder but there is no way I am staying here. She works very hard to establish a good reputation and I like that even though she did that all by herself, she recognizes the importance certain people played in her life and she is very thankful to them.
Because I’m a sucker for romance I liked that it was implied that Charlotte and her childhood friend Hayward would end up being more than friends. I think the author presented the idea of romance beautifully because while it is nice to see Charlotte reconnect with an old friend, it doesn’t make her story all about that. Hayward never comes to save her, fix her life, or do anything for her whatsoever. The romance is never the main focus of the story, it’s just a little something extra that you can choose to read into or not.
I think that Riding Freedom can be a good introduction to feminism for young girls, granted there are better books to get started with but with a little help this book can definitely be a conversation starter.
I give Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan 5 out of 5 stars. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone – young girls, early-readers, adults, lovers of Historical fiction, everyone!
I would also like to finish off by saying that as I was preparing to read this book, I was excited to find out that it is actually based on a real person.
For whatever reason this was just something I was unaware of the first time I read it.
I was able to find a great New York Times article titled: Overlooked No More: Charley Parkhurst, Gold Rush Legend With a Hidden Identity.
Pam Munoz Ryan does point out to readers at the end, that Riding Freedom is her attempt at telling Charlotte’s story but that she did change some things around.
After reading the article I found that while some of the major details hold up to the true history, a lot of it is the author attempting to piece together what little is known about Charley Parkhurst.
I think it is important to point that out because while the story is still a great read, the history is not entirely accurate.