Stiefvater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races. New York: Scholastic, 2011.
The Scorpio Races draws on Celtic myths of the water horse, capaill uisce, which are bloodthirsty horses that emerge from the ocean on Stiefvater’s island of Thisby. Each November, racers catch the deadly capaill uisce and train them to race in the Scorpio Races, which always leaves some horses and men lifeless. Sean Kendrick grew up with his father racing the capaill uisce, until his father was trampled and killed during the races. After that night, Sean has grown up catching, training, and racing the water horses. He is attached to Corr, the red capaill uisce that was his father’s; Sean is fearless, the island’s expert in handling the capaill uisce, and he is the four-time winner of the Scorpio Races. On another part of the island, Kate “Puck” Connolly and her two brothers have lost both of the their parents to the water horses, who attacked them at sea. Upon learning that the Connolly house is to be repossessed and that her brother Gabe is leaving to go to the mainland, Puck decides to enter the races in the hopes of winning enough money to keep the house and convince her brother to stay with them on the island. However, Puck refuses to ride the capaill uisce, and, instead, rides her mare, Dove, who is dwarfed by the huge and fast water horses. Despite the derision she faces for being female and for riding an ordinary horse, with an alliance with Sean, Puck defies everyone’s expectations by successfully riding in the races.
The Scorpio Races is an excellent example of how young adult literature includes a variety of genres, subjects, and levels of sophistication (Nilson 34). Stiefvater’s novel is an example of myth-based fantasy, since it is based on Celtic myths of the water horse. I was unaware of these myths before I read this novel, and I agree with Nilson that “teachers might want to have on hand some informative books telling the original stories” (161). I probably would have appreciated the novel more if I had the background knowledge of the original myths; however, even without knowledge of the myths, it is a captivating novel. The subject matter is unique and easily captures the reader’s interests. Additionally, it is a Printz honor book, which demonstrates its literary value. The writing is sophisticated, but does not drag. It addresses universal truths of finding what makes people who they are – how we define ourselves. It shows that our pasts and experiences shape us but do not define us. Puck, especially, provides an example of courage and perseverance; she fights sexism and stays true to herself. When Puck argues for her place in the races as she is being derided by the men who do not want her to race, Sean speaks up and says “I’ll speak for her… this island runs on courage, not blood” (198). All readers can learn from Puck’s bravery; she is not afraid to look opposition in the face and keep standing.
Additionally, Sean and Puck are well-written characters and portray the viewpoints of young adults. Booklist states, “While there is plenty of action, conflict, excitement, and a heart-stopping climax, it is the slowly developing relationship between Kate and Sean that makes the book remarkable. Though different, they are both products of the island and have an intense love for Thisby that is not shared by all of the residents. Stiefvater makes readers care deeply for them, their desolate island, and even the monstrous water horses” (140). Sean and Puck’s relationship grows out of their respect for one another. They can both find elements of themselves in the other, and both feel tied to the island. The scene on the cliffs when Sean says, “Other people have never been important to me, Kate Connolly. Puck Connolly,” and Puck replies, “And now?” shows the slow evolution of their relationship (213). Even then, he does not respond to her, but the reader knows that they care for one another. The reader wants Sean and Puck to be together, work together, and win the races together. Puck is feisty, while Sean is more serious and concentrated, but neither of them ever gives up, which young adults can appreciate.
Lastly, Stiefvater orphans both main characters, so that they are “free to take credit for [their] own accomplishments” (Nilsen 30). Sean struggles to buy Corr and earn his freedom from Malvern, while Puck has to provide for herself and her brother Finn, when she finds out that the eldest Connolly, Gabe, is leaving them. The adults in the novel are peripheral and serve mostly to motivate Sean and Puck to stay true to their paths. However, the “the large cast of supporting characters springs to life, particularly Puck's brothers, Finn and Gabe, and Thisby feels like a place you can see and smell. The water horses are breathtakingly well-imagined, glorious and untamably violent. The final race, with Sean and Puck each protecting each other but both determined to win, comes to a pitch-perfect conclusion” (“The Scorpio Races” 1607). Young adults are the main stars in this novel, and Sean and Puck shine.
Doyle, Anthony C. "The Scorpio Races." School Library Journal 57.11 (2011): 140. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 8 July 2014.
Nilsen, Alleen Pace, James Blasingame, Kenneth L. Donelson, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Literature for Today's Young Adults. New York: Pearson, 2013. Print.
"The Scorpio Races." Kirkus Reviews 79.17 (2011): 1607. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 8 July 2014.