Scorpio Races, The by Maggie Stiefvater

Stiefvater, M. (2011). The Scorpio Races. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

ISBN-13: 978-0545224918

Genre: Action, Supernatural, Fiction, Animals

Reading level/ interest age: 15+

Plot summary:

Puck and Sean live on an island built around the Scorpio Races that happen every November. The poor town can barely support itself besides this one time of year when tourists flock to the island to participate in the festivals and place bets. What makes the island so unique is not the inhabitants but the horses and their riders. Every fall season, water horses emerge from the sea. These horses are most beautiful and fastest of all horses that have ever lived. However, their beauty comes with a price. Water horses are also the fiercest creatures the town has ever known. Most end up killing their riders, drowning them in the water or stomping them to death. 

Sean is the most renowned of all riders. His water horse, Cora, has won him the last few years’ races. However, as Sean has no money besides his race winnings, he is unable to care for Cora by himself. He hopes to one day make enough to purchase land for Cora but that means he needs to keep winning races. As Cora does not actually belong to Sean, the owner of the land he rents threatens to sell off Cora if he does not win this year’s race again. 

Puck struggles to help her family get by and is both resentful and grateful for the attention the town gets every September. This year, she gets the crazy idea to participate in the races herself. But without a water horse of her own, how will she manage to even get entered into the contest?

Reader’s annotation:

Water horses are the meanest, fastest, and most beautiful creatures that inhabit the island Puck and Sean live on. Both of them need to win this year’s race but Puck doesn’t even own a water horse. Can she still hope to compete against Sean?

Information about the author:

“Maggie Stiefvater is a writer, artist, and musician and the New York Times bestselling author of Shiver, hailed by Publishers Weekly in a starred review as ‘a lyrical tale,’ and by BookPage as ‘beautifully written, even poetic at times, and a perfect indulgence for readers of all ages.’ There are more than 1.7 million copies of the trilogy in print. Since publication, rights to more than thirty-six foreign editions of Shiver have been licensed. Linger, the second book in the Shiver trilogy, debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

The Scorpio Races, Stiefvater’s latest novel, received five starred reviews and was named to the following best of the year lists for 2011: Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, The Horn Book and Kirkus Reviews. In addition, The Scorpio Races was named a 2012 Michael L. Printz Honor Book by the American Library Association, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book, and The New York Times Book Review raved, ‘[Stiefvater] not only steps out of the young adult fantasy box with The Scorpio Races but crushes it with pounding hooves….If The Scorpio Races sounds like nothing you’ve ever read, that’s because it is.’

“Stiefvater lives in Virginia with her husband and their two children” (, 2014).

Curriculum ties: N/A

Booktalking ideas:

1.       Would you be brave enough to try riding a water horse?
2.       Would you choose to stay on the island or move away for better work?

Critical evaluation:

One of the elements that makes this novel so interesting is that is told from dual perspectives. The reader gets a taste of both Puck and Sean’s inner thoughts. Puck undergoes a very drastic transformation from a child to a young adult struggling to take care of her family. She is the sole provider for her younger siblings ever since her parents passed away and her older brother left the island for better work. Puck constantly struggles between being a substitute mother and a carefree girl. Sean on the other hand changes from a selfish, single minded boy into a pensive young man. Puck teaches Sean to be more patient, that the best things in life are hard fought, and the winning does not always mean everything he thought it would. 

The overall tone of The Scorpio Races is depressive. I got the impression that everything in the town, including the inhabitants were quite drab. The only thing interesting about the island that make it unique were the appearances of the water horses. Otherwise, the miserable theme of poverty took hold and threatened to never let go. The author loses sight of the actual storyline several times trying to describe how poor the inhabitants are but something that stuck with me was the contrast to one of the rich horse owners. Maggie presses readers into believing that cream and butter are luxuries and so, during a powerful scene, the horse owner actually adds a glob of butter to his coffee. The imagery evoked to create such disgust for both the coffee and the man was truly artful. I can only hope that Maggie continues to develop as a writer the more novels she produces.

Challenge issues:

·         Violence

Defensive Maneuvers:

·         Have the library’s collection development policy memorized and on hand in case a situation arises.
·         Keep positive reviews on hand to refer to or hand out when needed.
·         If the book has won any awards, mention them to the patron and briefly explain the award.
·         Listen to the patron and practice good customer service skills when communicating. Let the customer know where or if he/she can escalate his/her complaint.
·         When necessary, cite sections of the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights or refer to the ALA's Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials.

Why included:

Three years ago, when this book was released, I went to a book signing that Maggie did where she promoted this book along with another emerging young adult author. Scorpio Races is much better written than the Shiver trilogy and as Maggie is still releasing new books, I think that readers will enjoy her works as they focus around animals.

Reference: (2014). Biography Maggie Stiefvater. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from

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