When one of my blogging friends contacted me quite some time ago, asking if, when her book was published, I'd consider reading and reviewing it on my blog, I immediately said yes. It's always a pleasure when a fellow writer gets a book out there, and one of these days she may be getting a similar email from me.
When the book arrived, I was immediately charmed by the lovely cover, which happily turned out to suit the atmosphere and tone of the story perfectly.
Our heroine is May B., a twelve-year-old girl growing up on the Kansas frontier. One moment her biggest problem is dealing with the new teacher, who is much different from the previous one, who was kind and supportive of the difficulty May has learning to read. The next moment that problem shrinks in comparison, as she discovers that her parents have agreed to send her to work for a newly married couple, far away from her own comfortable little home. Not only can her parents use the money, but the fact that while she's gone there will be one fewer mouth to feed means it will stretch their winter food stores as well. May isn't happy - how will she ever learn to improve her reading if she's missing months of school? How will she manage living with two complete strangers on a homestead miles from her family?
May isn't sure what to expect, but she tries to make the best of things. Then things suddenly change, and May finds herself in a truly harrowing situation, with no one to rely upon but herself.
May B. is a delightful heroine, resourceful, clever and sensitive, and her story has a powerful sense of immediacy, told in free verse from May's point of view. This story is clearly an homage to the Little House books, but I have to say that while I was never a huge fan of that series (nor have I had any luck getting my own children to enjoy it), I know I would have loved this novel as a child. The writing is spare and powerful, with evocative sensory details that transported me directly to the freezing winter prairie. My eleven-year-old daughter picked this one up as I was reading it (we had two bookmarks going for a while there), and she adored it. This is the most gripping historical novel for children that I have read in a long, long time, and I know I will definitely be recommending it to young readers at my library.
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (Random House Children's Books, 2012)
Also reviewed at:
The Fourth Musketeer: "I particularly enjoyed the author's use of free verse in this short novel, which is accessible to even reluctant readers."
Things Mean a Lot: "May B is a quiet, beautifully written and girl-centric pioneer story."
Waking Brain Cells: "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."