When I was growing up out in rural southern Ohio, many of the girls with whom I went to school had horses, and many who did not have horses still loved them anyway. I worked in the high school library, and the three books that I noticed were constantly being checked out by the horse living crowd were Black Beauty, National Velvet, and My Friend Flicka, which is about a horse and a boy, Ken McLaughlin, who lives with his father, a retired military officer turned rancher and horse breeder, mother, older brother, and two ranch hands on Goose Bar Ranch in Wyoming. Ken chooses a half-wild yearling as his horse and works to tame the filly who tries to escape and is severely injured, then Ken gets very sick while seeking to keep the horse from being shot.
Having read the unabridged version, I can attest to the fact that it does contain a lot of profanity and cursing–even the mother, who is normally placid, uses the “d” word on one occasion. However, I had seen a version among those cute little books for girls with the lockets wrapped up with them, and I suspected that it had been edited with much of the offending material removed. Then a friend wrote me, “I did find a Reader’s Digest condensed version – it is much, much cleaner. RD removed most, if not all, of the profanity to my recollection. Yet they retained the better language usage and higher level of vocabulary words.”
In addition to the bad language, there are numerous references to smoking tobacco and even a few to drinking alcohol. Also, the scene where the young male horses were gelded I thought was a little more gruesomely detailed than needed to be. Then the attitude of the father toward Ken was not always the greatest. Although it is clear that Mr. McLaughlin truly loved his younger son, he is initially presented as gruff, petulant, distant, and cold, probably because he does not understand or appreciate Ken’s dreamy and, probably in his eyes, “not manly enough” disposition. However, more than a story of a boy and a horse, the book is really a story about how the relationship between the boy and the horse affects how the father and son come to understand each other better. The story is actually not a bad one, and Jeremy (who was about ten at the time), to whom I read it aloud (with A LOT of editing!), enjoyed it, although he did get a little upset with the father’s attitude on occasion.