They said it couldn't be done.

You were too old, too frail, too young, too inexperienced, too female. You lacked the know-how to do it right. You just plain couldn't, which was all the impetus you needed, all the catalyst required to make sure you at least tried. In the book "The Ride of Her Life" by Elizabeth Letts, just a little effort was all it took...

Things seemed to be looking up, that fall of 1953.

Sixty-two-year-old Annie Wilkins and her 85-year-old Uncle Waldo were "just about to get ahead" on their little farm near Minot, Maine. Their livestock were thriving, there was enough feed to last the winter and though Waldo wasn't in very good health, Annie could split wood to keep them warm. It would've been enough, but when winter hit hard, Annie caught the flu and while she was bedridden, Waldo died.

Life had never been easy for Annie, but she knew no different. An only child, she'd left school "at the end of sixth grade" and went to work on the farm then. But now there wasn't much to work — the barn was empty,"the farm was always hungry," and she only had her little dog, Depeche Toi, to keep her company. She tried growing crops for a local factory but really, she had "few and stark choices."

Years ago, her parents dreamed about traveling. Annie's mother always wanted to see California, but never lived long enough. Annie had a little money; what she lacked was guts.

But not for long.

She began to plan.

Though it'd been decades since she'd been astride a saddle, she sent a postcard to a nearby stable in search of a "tough horse"; there, she found a gentle ex-race horse named Tarzan who took to Depeche Toi right off. Annie fixed up an "ancient" saddle that was left in her barn, packed what she figured were essentials, and chose "several layers of clothing" to wear.

And on November 4, 1954, Annie Wilkins pointed her horse's nose eastward...

Hard to imagine, isn't it? In today's world, it would be pure folly to even try. And yet, author Letts gives readers so much insight that we're captivated and even charmed by this tale, and "The Ride of Her Life" becomes the book we need now.

In a way, in fact, it's a dual pleasure.

The tale of Annie Wilkins (whom Letts consistently, warmly calls by her first name) is so pure of heart that you simply have to love it. Wilkins didn't know what she didn't know, but she still managed to travel by horseback more than 2,600 miles, all through the kindness of strangers. That that was possible is the second appeal here, as Letts tosses in reminders of America, 1954. It's idyllic, gracious, and wonderfully sentimental.

Readers who'd love an easy, gentle story that's entirely true will want to cozy up with this one for a long winter's read. "The Ride of Her Life" is so good, you'll never want it done.

Terri's grade: A.

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