I’d like to talk about how much I enjoyed Sarah Zettel’s Dust Girl—a secret fairy princess! In the Dust Bowl!—and I promise I’ll get to that a bit.
I’m going to bring up The Crappy Thing first, though, because if we don’t continue pointing this stuff out, nothing’s ever going to change. Heck, even when we do keep harping, it keeps on keepin’ on anyway. Just two months back, I wrote about a particularly obnoxious example.
Read about Laura Powell's modern magic thriller 'Burn Mark.'
What on earth is she going on about now, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Whitewashing.
My papa was a black man. That made me a black girl. That meant there was a whole world of things I couldn’t do, and places I couldn’t go.
Apparently, one of the places that Calliope LeRoux can’t go is the cover of the very book that she’s narrating. To be fair, at the beginning of her story, Callie describes herself as having “cream-colored” skin and “blue-grey eyes.” Her mother has always made her wear a hat and gloves when she’s in the sun, so she won’t “turn brown,” and she’s spent her whole life passing as white. So, based on just that, I could understand someone making an argument in the cover’s favor.
But there’s also this:
My hair was another story. My black hair was my mother’s worst enemy. “So coarse,” she’d mutter while she combed the tangles out.
Doesn’t sound so much like the girl on the cover, right? Add that detail to the fact that once Callie leaves Slow Run, Kan., most other characters immediately identify her as mixed-race, and I call whitewashing. I find it especially depressing that it was done to this book in particular, with its themes of identity and self-acceptance, family and ancestry.
I loved everything on the inside of Dust Girl. It’s a great read, full stop. It’s not ultra deep by any means, but it’s thrilling, thoughtful, imaginative and fun. The basic premise is a familiar one—girl discovers that she’s half-fairy and also the main player in a major prophecy—but it still feels fresh. A good part of that is due to Callie’s engaging, honest voice. She also uses enough idiom and slang to create a ’30s flavor, but never so much that she feels over-the-top or forced.*
While the voice is strong and the storyline is entertaining, it’s the setting that’s especially outstanding. The author clearly did a lot of research about Dust Bowl-era Kansas—happily, she includes a whole list of references at the end—and that comes though in Technicolor. Well, actually, pretty much everything—at least in the human world—is faded and grey, but you take my point. And, of course, Callie’s dusty world makes the excursions into the vibrant, plush fairy realm pop that much more in comparison.
In Dust Girl, the magic feels magical and limitless—which will make this camp happy—but it also complicates Callie’s life rather than simplifies it. I’m very much looking forward to seeing where the story goes next...and, of course, hoping that the cover art will be more faithful.
*See Vixen for an example of overdoing it.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.