cover image May B.

May B.

Caroline Starr Rose. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $15.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-58246-393-3

Set on the Kansas prairie in the 19th century, this debut novel in verse presents a harrowing portrait of pioneer life through the perspective of 12-year-old Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, called May B. After a disappointing harvest, May’s family sends her 15 miles away to help a farmer and his new bride (“She’s fancy and tall,/ but I’ve caught it right away—/ she’s hardly older than I”). May bravely faces the loss of family and the opportunity to attend school, until a homesick Mrs. Oblinger runs off for Ohio and Mr. Oblinger follows, leaving May completely alone. The spare free-verse poems effectively sketch this quietly courageous heroine, the allure and dangers of the open prairie, and the claustrophobic sod house setting. Tension mounts as the weather worsens and supplies dwindle. May’s struggle with reading is particularly affecting, and readers will recognize her unnamed and poorly understood difficulty as dyslexia. Writing with compassion and a wealth of evocative details, Rose offers a memorable heroine and a testament to the will to survive. Ages 8–12. Agent: Martha Kaplan Agency. (Jan.)