May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
May has grown up living out on her family’s homestead on the Kansas prairie. When money gets tight, she is sent to become live-in help for other homesteaders, but just until Christmas. May finds herself in a small sod house fifteen miles away from her own. The young wife, who is almost May’s age, is unhappy on the prairie and runs away. The husband heads after her and neither return. May is left alone on the prairie where at first the days are lovely, sunny and warm and she enjoys the freedom. Then winter comes, and May is alone on the prairie with a dwindling food supply, just a little wood for heat, and only the prairie itself for company. This book written in verse is a look at the dangers, hardship and courage of homesteading.
Rose has written a book that pays homage to the Little House on the Prairie books and reads a lot like The Long Winter. At the same time, it also has a stark reality about it that makes it gripping. The format of a verse novel works particularly well here as most of the story is May’s reaction to her situation. What could have been lengthy treatises on loneliness instead are verses that speak to the harrowing nature of abandonment.
The book also deals with May’s dyslexia which makes her almost unable to read. She had one teacher, shown in flashbacks, who treated her with respect and worked with her. But after that, another teacher arrived who used shame to try to get May to learn to read. It is the story of an obviously bright and very resourceful girl with dyslexia. Her struggles to read strike a delicate balance in the book, showing an inner battle that plays against the external forces at work.
A taut, frightening novel of solitary confinement set in wide-open spaces, this book would work well with reluctant readers or as a classroom read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.