THE GREAT DESERT RACE by Betty Baker

THE GREAT DESERT RACE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Back in 1908, it appears, the automobile dealers of San Julio, California, pitted their competing makes in a two-day race to Phoenix--which has here inspired a very young-looking book (thin, largish print) revolving around two 15-year-old girl entrants, driver Augusta Cunningham and ""mechanician"" Trudy Philpot. To begin with, then, the subject (involving the comparative advantages of steam-, electric-and gasoline-powered vehicles) doesn't really suit the format, which doesn't suit the age (or preoccupations) of the protagonists. And on no level would it make sense for two 15-year-old girls to be entrusted with driving a car alone for two days across the desert. And even accepting the assorted incompatibilities and un-likelihoods, the story takes forever to get going--largely because there is so much to explain. What it boils down to (omitting enough secondary characters to people a full-length novel), is that Augusta's auto-dealer father has sold Trudy's newspaper-editor father a steam-powered car--which the latter maligns as too difficult to operate. To settle their quarrel, the men agree to let the girls make the upcoming race in a like model--a prospect pleasing to Alberta because of her crush on mechanic Fred, to Trudy because of her proto-feminist interest in cars and anything that will get her away from her fluttery mother. Once the race actually gets under way, a certain momentum does build up--but the characters remain operabuffa (and juvenile fiction) stereotypes imposed on a historical incident that could not have borne any resemblance to the goings-on here.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1981
Publisher: Macmillan