Ten-year-old Ken McLaughlin returns home to Goose Bar Ranch after a long year of school. The wide open pastures, rolling hills and grazing horses call Ken to join them for hours of imagination, but after his father discovers his poor school marks, Ken must suppress his imagination and prove himself to his father. Hoping Ken might grow by training a horse, his mother, Nell convinces her husband, Rob to give Ken a colt. Ken chooses Flicka, a chestnut colored filly with wild blood. The filly proves herself to be challenging, similar to Ken, but with determination and love, Ken works to prove both his and Flicka’s worth.
Mary O’Hara’s novel, My Friend Flicka bursts with country adventure, familial emotions and maturity. Told mainly from the perspective of Ken McLaughlin, this novel explores what it means to become a man. Ken, longing for the friendship of his father, finds it difficult proving his worth while staying true to himself. Ken also struggles to connect with his father because of his father constantly comparing him to his older brother, Howard. As Nell and Rob discuss their son one night, Nell tries to explain that Ken will never be able to please Rob with his grades, Rob’s response, “Why won’t he? Howard did” (59). Later, when Nell suggests Rob give Ken a colt, Rob expresses his lack of confidence in Ken by again comparing him to his brother, “But it isn’t a little thing. It’s not easy to break and school a colt the way Howard has schooled Highboy. I’m not going to have a good horse spoiled by Ken’s careless ways. He never knows what he’s doing” (61). This distrust from his father, lowers Ken’s confidence and makes it hard for him to develop out of his adolescent ways.
When Ken announces he will take the filly with wild blood, his father responds, “I was hoping you’d make a wise choice” (144). Rob gives Ken multiple opportunities to choose a different horse but Ken will not give up Flicka. Rob’s last attempt to get Ken to change his mind happens after an incident with Rocket, Flicka’s mother:
McLaughlin’s voice rose angrily. “Look up!”
Ken looked up and was more frightened than ever. His father’s face looked appalling. It was swollen out of all shape, one eye was closed by purple and black lumps above and below, and the white dressing on the cheekbone was surrounded by an inflamed, angry circle.
“Are you going to be a bull-headed little simp or a sensible boy?”
Ken said stubbornly, “Dad, I have to have her—she’s mine.”
He really meant, she’s me. It felt as if his father was asking him to be torn apart. (170)
Ken will not give up Flicka because of the closeness he feels with her. Like Flicka, Ken feels misunderstood. Ken refers to flicka as a lone wolf, perhaps also considering himself an outsider.
A Sunday on the ranch the McLaughlins and some friends talk about Rocket: “But when that type does adjust, you’ve got something super” (180), one of the men says. This statement does not just apply to wild horses, but all “a freedom-loving individual, man or beast” (180). Ken, like Flicka, may not behave the way his father wants, but that does not mean Ken nor Flicka do not deserve time and attention. As Ken proves, with enough love and attention a wild heart can develop trust. After Flicka finally gets brought into the corral, she jumps a wire fence and gets badly injured.
“I doubt if she pulls out of it,” said McLaughlin (Rob) briefly. “But it’s just as well. If it hadn’t been this way it would have been another. A loco horse isn’t worth a damn.” (194)
These words go straight to Ken’s heart, if his father doesn’t believe Flicka has worth, then he must also not believe in his son.
This novel does not ease on the difficult details in Ken’s life, including pain, death and disapproval. This story gives a raw depiction of being raised by a strict father and trying to prove oneself. Ken finds companionship in a horse that his father believes does not have the ability to build a relationship with a human. He manages to stay true to himself despite the criticism of his father and learns to deal with obstacles in life.