It’s a story of friendship. It’s a story about what we want versus others’ expectations of us. And most importantly, it’s a story about horses. There may also be a bit of sci-fi and RenFest in there as well. “Ride On,” Faith Erin Hicks’s horse girl coming of age OGN from First Second, follows its young cast as they find their place in the world. Even if finding the way there is often painful. It’s also a story about how Star Trek will help you find out who your real friends are. Okay, that may be an oversimplification. But I personally believe that to be true.
Some light spoilers within.
Written/Drawn by Faith Erin Hicks
Colors by Kelly Fitzparick
After a falling out with her best friend, Victoria begins riding at Edgewood Stables. But this fresh start means rejecting competitions. And friends.
First and foremost, the book looks great. Hicks’s art has always been exceptionally animated and expressive. Kelly Fitzpatrick’s vivid colors pair well on their own. Though the subtle muted tones used in the flashbacks are a nice touch. It would have been easy enough to use a B&W or sepia palette for those panels. But managing to communicate it visually without losing the book’s vibrant look is impressive. The more horse savvy readers will appreciate the care with the riding scenes and anatomy, informed by Hicks’s own experience riding.
While the first character we are introduced to is Victoria, our point of view character is the overly excitable Norrie, who immediately declares the new member of their stable the enemy. Because after all, Edgewood and Waverly are sworn enemies. Maybe. Well, not really. But Norrie sure believes it. Norrie as a character is an absolute delight. And anchoring the story with her is the right decision. While Victoria is ostensibly the protagonist, we’re given her backstory story in doses. The glimpses we get of her past slowly open her up to us, mirroring her struggles opening up to her new Edgewood stablemates. It also stretches out the heartbreak that made her leave Waverly.
Victoria came to Edgewood after a falling out with her former best friend Taylor, who no longer believes that Victoria really cares about riding, and therefore their friendship. It’s genuinely a heartbreaking scene. The multiple flashbacks of the same moment give us a sense of how long they’ve been friends, even if they only really span a few minutes. And by this time, we’ve already been shown how much Victoria loves riding. The first page of the book is her befriending a pony. Seeing this passion broken down hurts. Particularly when it’s over Victoria not being able to afford her own horse.
It’s not too long after that we learn of another heartbreak in Victoria’s life. Her parents went through a nasty divorce some years ago. And as their marriage was ending, their young daughter would drown out the shouting with her favorite Star Trek flavored sci-fi show canceled after three seasons, Beyond the Galaxy. Looking at it from a plot structure perspective, Beyond the Galaxy serves as the bridge between her old life and new. Seeing the logo on Sam’s (the only boy at the stable) bag is what finally cracks the ice for her. Learning that most of the folks at the stable are fans is what helps inspire her to make peace with forever arch nemesis Norrie. And most importantly, when she sees Taylor again at the end, her former best friend being snarky about it cements the end of their friendship. It’s a great through line that illustrates Victoria’s growth as a character. And I’m pretty sure we can all relate to having a favorite show that ends with an unresolved cliffhanger.
Norrie being the audience surrogate also helps us learn about the supporting cast, fleshing out the themes of the story. Sam is the only boy at the stable, and his brothers are all convinced he’s only doing it to pick up girls. Her friend Hazel has her own reservation about performing, after an embarrassing showing at a past competition. And Norrie herself struggles with living in the shadow of her academically successful brother, who later admits he struggles making friends. Each of them struggle with the idea that someone else created for them. We also see this with Norrie’s wild projections. Victoria failed to live up to imagined standards assigned to her by someone else. It nearly took something she loved away from her. And it almost completely shut her off from the world. But the stories ends with her overcoming those anxieties by opening up to the folks around her who are also struggling. Now she gets to go play Star Trek at the Renaissance Faire where her sister works.
(Side note: As someone with his fair share of RenFest experience… she makes *how much* just jestering?!)
“Ride On” is a terrific book from top to bottom. The art is fantastic. It’s remarkably well structured on a technical level. And you’ll find yourself loving all of the characters, even if you’re getting your heart broken by and alongside them.