This will be a spoiler review on the book Joey by Jennifer Marshall Bleakley that is out now. If you don’t want to be spoiled on anything here is my spoiler free review.
Still here? You’ve been warned.
Hope Reins is a non-profit created to give hurting children and horses a place of refuge to experience hope and healing. This extends to their volunteers and staff members as well, and this book conveys that heart by maintaining a respectful approach to how this story is told. It is an emotional read and you will cry. I cried, a lot.
I’m going to start this much the same way I did my spoiler free review (just incase), by letting you know that this is not my usual choice in genre. I’m more into fiction; I like the fantastical and character driven books. I like to be emotionally drawn in and escape into a new place. I tend to find non-fiction lacking in those departments, so it often doesn’t hold my attention.
This was not the case for this book. I had feared that I wouldn’t enjoy this book because of its genre (remember that saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”? No, its genre now). It is a true story and I do actually have a bit of personal experience with Hope Reins, and their horses and staff; and despite that this book took me on an adventure I only expect from fiction novels.
Its an odd thing to explain, which may be due to my lack of experience with reading non-fiction books, but I felt like I was reading a fictional story. This book doesn’t by any means feel “fake”, I think of it like when someone is telling you about that crazy adventure they went on during vacation; its immersive and exciting, you know the end result but you still find yourself on the edge of your seat waiting to hear how it turns out. Props to you Jennifer Bleakley for changing my views on non-fiction books with the way you were able to tell me this story, as if I had never heard it before.
This book mainly follows the stories of three women: Kim Tschirret, Lauren Mattea, and Sarah Stewart. I’m gonna break down a short summery of their individual stories and then we are going to talk about Joey, the star of this show. I’ll be honest here, my expectation was maybe more along the lines of A Dog’s Purpose, and I think I owe that again to my lack of reading books in non-fiction. I hope that this review and my spoiler free review (one last chance) help people like me who don’t read non-fiction to have the right expectation for how this story will unfold. Think maybe more along the lines of Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul.
Lets start with Kim Tschirret, she is the founder of Hope Reins. When we first step into her story its at the start of Hope Reins, and she’s struggling with what so many people struggle with, trusting God to provide (I relate to this so much). In this case trusting God to provide everything that will make Hope Reins what it is today. She didn’t start with land and money to create this, or even horses. Just the beautiful idea of what it could be.
Lauren Mattea is next, we meet her when our lovely Joey arrives at Hope Reins with his soon-to-be pasture-mate, Speckles. At this point she’s a volunteer on Hope Reins’ feeding team, with a developing interest in horse training. She struggles with an undiagnosed issue that causes her sever pain in her knee, pain can cause frustration with those around you and with God for letting you experience that pain. Something that many people face and fear.
Sarah Stewart, we meet her the morning after Joey and Speckles first night at Hope Reins. She is also a volunteer on Hope Reins’ feeding team and she struggles with her relationship with God, does she believe in Him at all anymore? Does He even care about her? I think this is a struggle many people can relate to, sometimes its hard having faith in what you can’t see.
Finally Joey, how does a blind rescue horse change so much around him just by being there? I actually got to meet this horse, I mean very very briefly, but I did meet him. It was when I volunteered at one of Hope Reins’ summer camps with my best friend. It was such an odd feeling to read a book and be able to say “Right here, this was when I was there.” Reading this book, I really wish I had been able to meet him properly. He touched the lives of these women and the lives of so many of children that visit Hope Reins in such unique ways.
For Kim, struggling with trusting God to provide, Joey shows her that he literally has blind faith in the people around him; faith that they will feed him and take care of him, not to abandon him or hurt him like he had been before. She was able to see the way she needed to trust Jesus in the way this horse trusted her.
For Lauren, Joey really touched her life in the way he responded to Speckles, his pasture-mate. Speckles struggle with sever pain too; he started out rough around the edges and a bit hostile. He needed good communication and understanding from those around him to find his place, this is what gets Lauren involved in horse training. Joey is pivotal for Lauren after the death of Speckles, both mourning the loss of a darling friend. Lauren starts out isolating herself from the things she loves, but finds her way back to community after a tender moment she shares with Joey in his pasture, reminding her that we don’t carry our burdens and hurts by ourselves.
With Sarah, Joey was the reason she got into doing sessions. Just by sharing his story with a child she saw how that can be a door to healing, how children connect with the horses and see themselves in the horse. Through his connections with several kids and in how she personally saw him, Joey showed Sarah how God sees her. Not as damaged goods, but as a someone worthy of redemption and forgiveness.
I think that the main thing that Joey’s story shows is that no one is beyond saving and that healing is waiting in arms wide open. Sometimes reflection with a blind horse is the best way to see that.
I am so grateful that the publisher allowed me to read this book early and that I get to share my opinions and thoughts on it. I hope that this can encourage good conversation, please share with me what you thought of this book and what you learned. And share it with your friends!
Learn more about: Hope Reins
Learn more about: Jennifer Marshall Bleakley