As unforgiving as the western Kansas prairies, this extraordinary verse novel—Rose’s debut—paints a gritty picture of late-19th-century frontier life from the perspective of a 12-year-old dyslexic girl named Mavis Elizabeth Betterly… May B. for short.
Between May and her brother Hiram, she’s the dispensable one: “Why not Hiram? I think, / but I already know: / boys are necessary.” Ma and Pa, hurting for money, hire out their daughter to the Oblingers, a newlywed couple who’ve just homesteaded 15 miles west—just until Christmas, Pa promises. May is bitter: “I’m helping everyone / except myself.” She has trouble enough at school with her cumbersome reading without missing months… and how can she live in such close quarters with strangers? A misshapen sod house, Mr. Oblinger and his wife, a miserable teenager in a flaming red dress, greet her as “Pa tucks money / inside his shirt pocket.” This sad-enough tale crescendos to a hair-raising survival story when May is inexplicably abandoned and left in complete isolation to starve… just until Christmas? Snowed in and way past the last apple, May thinks, “It is hard to tell what is sun, / what is candle, / what is pure hope.”
If May is a brave, stubborn fighter, the short, free-verse lines are one-two punches in this Laura Ingalls Wilder–inspired ode to the human spirit. (Historical fiction. 9-14)