Title: May B.
Author: Caroline Starr Rose
ISBN: 9781582464121
Pages: 231 pages
Publisher/Date: Schwartz & Wade Books, c2012.

On the fourth day,
I stand at the stove
and, with my finger on the calendar,
trace the days of August.

I’ve known it since last night:
it’s been too long to expect them
to return.

Something’s happened.

My legs fold under me
as I try
to catch
my breath
between sobs.(71)

Twelve-year-old May B. has been pulled from school by her parents and rented out to a new Kansas couple to help them keep their house and get established because the family crop has failed. “We’ll get you home by Christmas” her mother and father keep telling her, as they drop her off at the farmstead and leave her there. But newly married Mrs. Oblinger is from the city and not happy with her new life. When she takes off and her husband quickly takes chase, four days pass before May B. is willing to admit to herself that something’s happened and they’re not coming back. All alone, with winter quickly approaching, she’s frozen with fear and worried about the weather. Should she attempt to walk the miles of uninhabited land to find her parents’ homestead, or should she wait it out, with little food and wood, until her father comes to rescue her four months from now?

This is Little House on the Prairie meets Hatchet, which is confirmed when the author admits in her author’s note that she “fell in love” with the Little House books when she was a child. I was most impressed with how author Caroline Starr Rose maintains the tension surrounding May’s predicament. Short, staccato phrases make for poetry that echoes the nervousness, frustration, and at times depression May must feel.

Her feelings aren’t alleviated any when her only source of comfort is the reader that she smuggled into her pack when she first came to the Oblingers’ property. While she loves school and dreams of being a teacher, it’s quickly apparent that she suffers from dyslexia and struggles with making sense of written words that she can’t read even when she knows what they say. This was a new spin on an old concept, because we always think of learning disabilities as a recent development, but it’s entirely possible that people have gone undiagnosed for years.

I was slightly disappointed when May didn’t do more to ensure her survival. She obviously has knowledge of how prairie life works, since she makes bread and talks about the plantings. But we don’t see many of her efforts in the beginning, and we hear of her boredom more often than not. The fitful presentation mimics what May must be feeling as she quickly loses track of the days and weeks and only has the weather to rely on. At one point she even says “Time was made / for others, / not for someone / all alone.” (135) It makes readers stop and think about what little the days and weeks matter when there is no difference between them. But the day-to-day survival techniques and chores are the one area where I wish there had been more details.

A strong, relatable character allows readers a glimpse of a girl’s survival story in harsh conditions that we have very little experience with today.

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