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This spoiler-free book review of Pony by R. J. Palacio gives you all the details you need to know about this genre-bending middle grade novel, including favorite quotes from Pony, frequently asked questions, a brief synopsis, book club discussion questions, similar books, and more!
Content warning: Intense theme of grief; gore and violence, particularly gun violence; drowning mentioned
Pony Book Review / Summary
- Instant New York Times Bestseller
This is a hero’s journey/coming-of-age adventure fiction and ghost story intended for middle grade readers, but Pony is beloved by adult and young adult audiences as well. The story takes place in 1860, just before the Civil War, in a Western rural town called Boneville. Silas Bird, a sensitive and brave twelve-year-old boy, embarks on a journey to find his father, Martin Bird, who has been taken in the night by a group of outlaws. Silas’s father is a Scottish immigrant bootmaker known for his brilliance—he’s a man of physics and a talented, experimental photographer and inventor of his time.
Silas sets out on a whim to find his pa, and all he has with him are his teenage ghost best friend/guardian, Mittenwool; a violin that used to belong to his mother; and an Arabian, bald-faced pony the outlaws left behind.
The audiobook was wonderful, but I know some readers who didn’t like this format. I do wish I’d had a physical copy of the book to annotate—there were so many lovely quotes I would have written down!
I love how tender Martin is with his son. I haven’t read many stories with sweet, sentimental father-son relationships. It felt a little reminiscent of Reuben and his relationship with his father, Jeremiah, in Peace Like a River. Even in the tenderness of Silas and his relationships, this book is not for the faint of heart, and definitely not for every young reader. It’s full of gore and violence, creepiness, and loss. The ghosts that appear throughout the book—which only Silas can see—are almost casual in their presentation, but there’s a sadness and heaviness between them, even the ones simply passing by.
I loved how you couldn’t quite pin down the genre—is Pony a western? A ghost story? Magical realism or fantasy because of the bits of paranormal thrown in? I wouldn’t say it’s historical fiction; it’s more of a historical slice-of-life story, but Pony is so atmospheric, and if you really like historical fiction and war stories, this is definitely one to check out.
Silas is such an endearing character, and I loved his relationship with Mittenwool, too. I will say, as a narrator, he seemed younger than twelve at times, and other times he seemed much older than twelve to me.
Even so, the prose is stunning, the details are rich (R. J. Palacio did so much research!), and the story is poignant, harrowing, and mysterious. The book is not quite spooky, but it is strange, and I think it will stick with me for a long time.
Favorite Quotes from Pony by R. J. Palacio
“Any Body, after being exposed to light, retains in darkness some impression of this light.”—R. J. Palacio, Pony
“Even when we can’t see it, the sun never stops shining. Always remember that.”—R. J. Palacio, Pony
“Even when they didn’t remember their own names, they always remembered who they loved. That, I’ve learned, is what we cling to forever. Love. It transcends, leads, it follows . . . a journey without end.”—R. J. Palacio, Pony
“But unkindness is not the same as cruelty. It is, perhaps, the precursor to it, the first step down a path toward the inevitable end.”—R. J. Palacio, Pony
Frequently Asked Questions about Pony by R. J. Palacio
What is Pony by R. J. Palacio about?
Pony is about a boy named Silas in the 1860s who embarks on a journey to save his father from a group of counterfeiters with just a ghost friend by his side, a violin, and a mysterious pony.
What age group is Pony by R. J. Palacio for?
Middle grade novels are typically written for eight- to twelve-year-old readers, but teens and adults alike will be drawn to this story. With some mature themes like loss, violence, and death and the afterlife, this book isn’t for every reader, and I would stick to ages 13+ or anyone who enjoys war stories.
Where does Pony by R. J. Palacio take place?
Pony takes place in the American Midwest in 1860.
What genre is Pony by Palacio?
Pony is a genre-bending coming-of-age tale. It’s an adventure fiction ghost story with a western, historical feel.
Book Club Discussion Questions for Pony
- Ice breaker question: Silas feels compelled to bring his mother’s violin when he takes off in search of his father. What sentimental item would you bring with you if you needed to run away quickly?
- In what ways is Mittenwool similar to and different from the other ghosts Silas sees or meets in the bog?
- How did your feelings about Marshal Farmer change—if at all—by the end of the book?
- Did any images or detailed descriptions leave an impression on you? What were they, and what made them so memorable?
- Without spoiling anything here, how did you feel about the ending of the story? Did you have any lingering questions left unanswered?
- Does Silas remind you of anyone, real or fictional? How did your perception of Silas change as you read through the book?
Other Books by R. J. Palacio
- White Bird
- Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories
- 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts
- We’re All Wonders
Similar Books to Pony by R. J. Palacio
These titles explore similar themes as Pony:
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
- Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
- Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera
- The Adventures of Odysseus, Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden
- The Runaways of Haddington Hall by Vivian French
Buy Pony by R. J. Palacio
I highly recommend Pony for older middle grade readers, young adults, and adults interested in coming-of-age adventure/war stories. This book really touched me—it was so unlike anything I’d read before. I hope you love it, too!