Raffles Reads is a collaboration between Raffles Press and Times Reads which aims to promote a reading culture among Singaporean students.
By Keiran Koh (22S06M)
Rating : 4.5/5
After her critically-acclaimed work “Wonder” achieved stupendous success, R.J Palacio released her newest work outside the Wonder universe in 2021, titled ‘Pony’.
Set in the 1800s in Ohio, USA, Pony follows the story of a 12 year-old with odd talents, Silas Bird, who lives with his father, Martin Bird, a boot maker and brilliant inventor. Silas is also accompanied by Mittenwool, a ghost, whom he shares banters with. Their cloistered and tranquil lifestyle is soon upended, however, when Roscoe Ollerenshaw and his henchmen take Martin Bird away to conduct some dubious business, unbeknownst to Silas. The following morning, a pony with a shimmering black coat, white head and piercing blue eyes surprises him at Silas doorstep, probing him to embark on a treacherous journey to find his father.
Pony is a riveting, coming-of-age story, with its fair share of nerve-wracking moments taking place in the perilous woods. We witness Silas overcome adversity and gain newfound strength and courage in his journey, as well as some friends along the way. One of them is a hot-tempered US Marshall Enoch Farmer, who rescues Silas after he wandered too close to the Haunted Bog, whilst hunting for a notorious counterfeit artist by the name of Mac Boat.
Their encounter foreshadowed the development of the following chapters. One prominent question began to pop up: is Silas’ father and the infamous counterfeit artist the same person? As the story unfolds, the distinction between reality and the otherworldly entities is soon blurred when Silas meets new characters with questionable existence. It’s really up to the reader’s imagination to fill in the open-ended blanks. The journey is also packed with much gore and melancholy, exemplified by the heaviness and dread of the spirits Silas meets.
What is certain is that the story provides a compelling encapsulation of the passionate love of a father and interweaves emotions of loss and endearment within the characters’ spoken and unspoken interactions.
The story is narrated through the lens of an adult Silas, recounting this momentous journey in his life. Snippets of precious father-and-son moments are sprinkled throughout the course of his journey, such as when Martin shared his passion for photography with him. Such vignettes add significant emotional weight to their long-awaited reunion.
Though targeted at children, Pony is an introspective read for audiences across the board, and a story of self-discovery and maturation. We see Silas come to terms with his complex emotions of grief and love. From being separated to reuniting with his father, he charts his own path and ventures into the unknown. The development of Silas is truly befitting of young teens finding their footing in the world. Be warned, though, for Pony is not for the faint of heart: younger audiences may find its mature themes and gory nature slightly unnerving.
Pony by R.J Palacio is a sophisticated read, with many elements to unpack and complex emotions to deal with. I would definitely revisit the book whenever I have the time, seeking to glean more from the book with each read.