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The Mare

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  4,539 ratings  ·  703 reviews
The story of a Dominican girl, the white woman who introduces her to riding, and the horse who changes everything for her
Velveteen Vargas is eleven years old, a Fresh Air Fund kid from Brooklyn. Her host family is a couple in upstate New York: Ginger, a failed artist on the fringe of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Paul, an academic who wonders what it will mean to “make a di
Hardcover, 441 pages
Published November 3rd 2015 by Pantheon
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S.W. Hubbard What kind of 13 year old? There is no graphic sex, violence, and profanity, but there are disturbing scenes between Velvet and her mother, Silvia. A k…moreWhat kind of 13 year old? There is no graphic sex, violence, and profanity, but there are disturbing scenes between Velvet and her mother, Silvia. A kid from a happy home would probably be puzzled and upset by their relationship, but it could be a good conversation starter in learning about how other people live. There are also some sexual situations. This is not a happy "a girl and her horse" book, if that's what you're looking for, but it's a very powerful novel. Definitely in my top 5 for 2015.(less)
Arnie Kahn My edition has what might be a mouse at the bottom of p. 182. Go figure.

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Average rating 3.66  · 
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Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Velveteen (Velvet) Vargas is an eleven-year-old Dominican girl from the inner city whose family signs up for the Fresh Air Fund, a program that pairs kids from Brooklyn with a host family in upstate New York. Velvet is paired with an Anglo woman named Ginger and her husband Paul. They take Ginger to their rural home, located down the road from a small-town stable, where Velvet discovers the joy of riding. Wh
Elyse  Walters
Audiobook....narrated by Kyla Garcia, Christa Lewis, Sean Pratt, and Nicol Zanzarella
.....and the physical hardcover

The four Audiobook narrators were each excellent telling Velvet’s story. Each voice was so different and distinct- adding zesty seasonings - of moods - emotions - points of view - and atmosphere enriching the novel as it unfolds.

The physical book was great too — allowing a different type of personal intimacy between me ( the r
Ron Charles
Nov 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-favorites
In the twilight of a year rich with books about race in America, Mary Gaitskill has just published a novel about the knee-smashing effects of minority poverty and the corrosive tonic of liberal guilt. “The Mare” is not a colossal epic of our era; its vision is precise; its protagonists — all female — are socially invisible. But here, without a drop of condescension, is fiction that pumps blood through the cold facts of inequality in our country.

The whole story germinates in soil fertilized by go
Diane S ☔
May 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite a few years back there was a show on Sunday evenings called Family Classics, I remember being a young girl and watching one show about a girl who fell in love with a wild horse she named Snowfire. This began an obsession with horses that lasted many years. That is what first drew me to this book, a horse making a big difference in a girls life.

This book proved to be so much more than that. Some books grab you from the beginning, others like this one creep up on you slowly. A young eleven y
Dorie  - Cats&Books :)
**** Note this book was reviewed a few years back but as talk of Fall and school starting I wanted to highlight this book which is an excellent young adult book which would be suitable for grades 6 and up, highly recommend this book!****

This is one of the most powerful books that I’ve read in a very long time. Yes, it’s a story about a girl and a horse but that is just the tip of what is going on here. I hadn’t read Mary Gaitskill before so I was absolutely amazed at her writing. Her prose was s
A mare and a young girl. Two battered souls who found each other and together they conquered the world.

At first I thought I'm dropping this book as soon as some sentimental emotional manipulation of the reader shows its annoying face. I wasn't in the mood for something like "Lassy Comes Home" in horsy-language. I was in the mood for a cozy, nice, relaxing read. But no frills no fuzz, please.

What a wake-up call ...! Alas, I turned out to be so deeply involved in the story of the disadvantage 11-
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"The Browns...loved each other, deeply, from the back of the soul, with intolerance in daily life."–National Velvet

A Booktuber I used to follow initially put this book on my radar when he rated this the best book of 2015, and surprised most of his viewers because they didn't think a story about a girl and her horse would hold his attention. He is usually drawn to gritty, dark and desperate first rate novels. That should have been an indicator that this wasn't going to be a sunny, modern adaptati
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
[3.75] The Mare is about the complicated relationships between Velvet Vargas, an 11 year old from Brooklyn (14 by the end of the novel), her mother, her "Fresh Air family" and her horse. I haven't read "National Velvet" and am not a horse person - for me, there was just too much horsiness.

I did like seeing how Velvet's relationship to horses changed her and how Velvet changed Ginger, her host mother. Gaitskill is an excellent writer and these characters felt so real, they jumped off the page. B
Carole (Carole's Random Life)
This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life

I didn't really know much about this story before I decided to give it a try. I think I really wanted to get lost in a story that was focused on a horse. I did end up getting completely pulled into this story but I quickly found out that this story really isn't about a horse. Sure, there is a horse in the story but this is really a story about a group of people tied to one another just trying to get through life. This book was very different t
Maya Lang
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I stayed up until 4 a.m. reading this novel with the kind of "holy shit" urgency only the best writing can make you feel. I've since recommended it left and right and pressed it into friends' hands with an emphatic, "You HAVE to read this." Don't look up what the novel is about and don't read the summaries. If you do, you'll roll your eyes and think about all the things that could go wrong, all the reasons to be skeptical. Great writers take on what shouldn't work. They overcome our skepticism, ...more
Apr 02, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I don't really know what to say about The Mare. I think I was somewhat disappointed in it. Now admittedly I was wary of it because of the whole horse thing. That was before reading it and giving it a chance. I did give it a chance but while it's definitely readable it just bored me and annoyed me overall. Mainly because of the 'white rich couple take in a poor black girl for a while and bond with her and turn her into horse riding star' cliche, then the perfectly happy married couple who actuall ...more
Sep 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
There are all sorts of things that might have gone wrong with this premise: a coming-of-age Dominican girl named Velveteen who, through the Fresh Air program, connects with a childless and privileged white woman, Ginger, and a horse named Fiery Girl.

The book could have been preachy or sentimental or reductive or too politically correct or overly clichéd, with its focus on rich and poor, black and white, human and animal. It is none of these things. Mary Gaitskill has written a thoroughbred of a
Douglas Wickard
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It takes all kinds of readers! I, for one, like my books honest, raw, and full of grit. While others prefer something entirely different. Diversity. The name of the game! So, I came upon The Mare, Mary Gaitskill's newest outing with some hesitation. As an author, I READ reviews. And, in this particular case, I ALMOST didn’t download the book because the reviews weren’t stellar. Instead, what I gathered from the chorus of combined voices was…anger and prejudice and a lack
Oct 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: recent-reads
There was something about this book that didn't sit well with me. I don't know if it was the style in which it is written (which made it feel longer to me); the voice of the characters; or the lack of action.

The premise of the story is Ginger and Paul are a childless couple that take part in the Fresh Air Program which matches inner-city kids with a family in the suburbs. Ginger and Paul get Velveteen Vargas (Velvet): a young girl from DR that has a mother that is spiteful and angry.

The story i
S.W. Hubbard
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is my last great book of 2015, and boy did it knock my socks off! It's got everything I love: flawed, fascinating characters, complex parent/child relationships, class conflict, great writing. This is a story of an upper middle class couple who decide to take in a Fresh Air Fund kid from Brooklyn for the summer. (Full disclosure: my family did this once and it was the hardest thing we've ever done. I'd never do it again.) In the process, the girl meets an abused horse and becomes an accompl ...more
Karin Mckercher
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
The writing is solid, easily consumed, with an approachable tone, and I enjoyed the structure, although I did find some discrepancies in facts that suggest better editing was in order. The character sketches are well-formed, but they failed to develop into real characters and remained merely sketches. The tension in the story — and there's plenty of it, between a precocious, young teenager discovering her own power and her insecure, abusive mother, or the recovering alcoholic whose new addiction ...more
Nov 24, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult
So, this is loosely based on National Velvet, I think. Except Velvet is Velveteen, and she's in the Fresh Air Fund program where urban and often underprivileged children from NYC are hosted by families from upstate NY during the summer where they can have rural outdoor experiences like swimming and hiking. As an outdoorsy type person I always thought the Fresh Air Fund sounded glorious because spending a summer on hot concrete and asphalt sidewalks and in steamy brick apartment buildings is no c ...more
Nov 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
"National Velvet" was the inspiration for “The Mare,” but don’t expect a modern rewrite of the novel that became a beloved Elizabeth Taylor movie. There are several major differences between the two versions: one is a fairy tale and one is not, one is for children and one is not, one has Velvet Brown and one has a brown Velvet.

In "The Mare,"Ginger brings improvised, 11-year-old, Dominican immigrant Velvet to stay with her for two weeks one summer. The pairing is done through a non-profit agency
Nov 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
Well, i hated to do it, but it had to be done. I gave up on this book 265 pages in. I'm annoyed. I read so many wonderful reviews and i just don't get it... ...more
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-workshop
The Mare is an enthralling book that takes us inside the lives of a white middle class family in the suburbs of New York and a Dominican family living in the inner city. While I can’t speak to the accuracy of Gaitskill’s characterization of the people of color, she let me into the minds of these women in a way I didn’t expect. As a reader that normally avoids books that focus on what characters are thinking, I still enjoyed The Mare, as the author deftly advanced the narrative, while shifting po ...more
Aug 20, 2017 marked it as read-enough
hmmm nope.

stereotypical depiction of latinx girl.

stereotypical and offensive description of latinx family.

stereotypical depiction of wealthy white woman who tries to do good.

characters sketched with massively broad strokes.

endless going on.


Sarah Tittle
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Like many women, I was a 20-year-old New Yorker when I read Gaitskill's first collection, Bad Behavior. I loved its edgy honesty as well as Gaitskill's ability to mine the beauty of harsh realities. But that was decades ago. I'm older and so is she. A lot of readers have been disappointed with The Mare--where's that bad behavior? But what she's done here is much wiser--if not quite as successful. I won't go into the plot, except to say that I loved the story and think it's one worth telling, esp ...more
Jul 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this story about a Dominican girl trying to make her way in the world.

When inner city pre-teen Velvet gets an opportunity to go to Fresh Air camp and ride horses, we just know that her white liberal benefactor Ginger is going to make a big difference in her life. But little do we know what overwhelming struggles she will face with poverty, sub-par schools, peer pressure, and a mother who loves her a little too fiercely. It’s hard for us to understand how a mother can love her daughter an
Aug 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let me just start by saying, I am a fan of Mary Gaitskill. Her prose is absolutely, stunningly poetic. She can make the mundane, ordinary and everyday seem beautiful, delicate and something to be treasured. Or maybe it's more appropriate to say her words remind me that it SHOULD be.

I enjoyed Veronica but in the same breath I would never re-read it nor would I ever recommend it to anyone else. In Veronica she "took it too far", so to speak. I'm not even sure that it would be much of an exaggerati
May 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
I've been reading Mary Gaitskill for years, but I'm stuck wondering where this Dangerous Minds/Free Willy mashup came from. And why the hell so many people liked it.

Craft-wise: It's a long book that didn't need to be a long book. The whole thing may have actually functioned better as a short story, as it otherwise drolly trots along (let's see how many horse puns I can get in here). It's a very trope-y story whose metaphors and parallels don't need to be spoon-fed to its readers. The switching P
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
This story centers on Velveteen Vargas, an inner city child who becomes a Fresh Air Fund kid to a childless couple in upstate New York. The couple, Ginger and Paul, decides to host a Fresh Air Fund kid after contemplating adopting a child for their own. It’s mostly Ginger who wants a child. Paul, who is a divorced father with a teenage daughter goes along with idea, although not fully committed. Told in alternating chapters from mostly Velveteen and Ginger’s point of view, the reader learns the ...more
Nov 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Day by day, month by month, year gone to another year story told in the 1st person consciousness. As the trailer states it's centered around a city girl and her "away" from the city fostering mother/family. All the characters are flawed but emotive. And the connections are made within the catalyst of a feisty female horse.

There is clash of race, language, economics, style, and manners. Primarily manners and perceptions of self-identity and of mobility differ immensely within the two "homes".

Jun 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
I see some merit in this book, but it just wasn't for me. I found the plot plodding, the characters superficial, the characters' conflicts repetitive, the ending anticlimactic. And I had no interest in anything to do with horses. ...more
One summer, a Dominican girl named Velvet is sent to live with a white couple who are considering adoption. Ginger is concerned about being a "white savior" but in introducing Velvet to horses, she finds a deep need inside her being filled. Velvet connects to Fugly Girl, a mare who has been abused and lashes out dangerously. Ginger and Velvet develop a relationship that is tested when Velvet returns home to her abusive mother, but which perseveres over time.

I couldn't help but notice that this n
Nov 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
An upper middle class couple take in a Fresh Air Fund kid from Brooklyn for the summer. Velvet is eleven years old. She is Dominican and has led a difficult life, in the inner-city. At her new summer home, there is a horse farm, across the road and Velvet is introduced to the horses there and a bond begins to form and it changes the young girl's life.

I like Gaitskill's writing and I enjoyed the early parts of the story, as she presents these characters. I sometimes have problems with "angst" in
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Mary Gaitskill is an American author of essays, short stories and novels. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Esquire, The Best American Short Stories (1993 and 2006), and The O. Henry Prize Stories (1998). She married writer Peter Trachtenberg in 2001. As of 2005, she lived in New York City; Gaitskill has previously lived in Toronto, San Francisco, and Marin County, CA, as ...more

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