May B., by Caroline Starr Rose, was my third book read for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge. May B. is a verse novel set in the late 19th century, on the Kansas frontier. May lives with her parents and older brother in a homestead "soddy". Her parents send her away to help a new bride at another homestead, 15 miles away (a large distance in those days). When the unhappy bride runs away, and her husband follows her, May is left completely alone, apparently forgotten. And when the winter blizzards start, she finds herself trapped and running out of food. Written off at school because she struggles with reading and makes mistakes, May has only herself to rely on to survive.
May B. packs a lot into a very quick read. May experiences a range of emotions, from shame at her reading disability to depression caused by loneliness to a root core of determination. The dangers she encounters range from getting lost on the prairie and freezing to death to starvation to the threat of wolves.
Her physical struggles are intermingled with her mental struggles. An afterword explains that the author, a longtime fan of the Little House books, wondered how children with learning disabilities would have been treated, before such disabilities were understood. May's self-esteem is diminished, but not extinguished completely, by the treatment of an unsympathetic teacher.
This mix of physical and mental challenges gives the book a certain balance. And though it's certainly not an upbeat story, May's occasional bursts of impetuousness lighten the tone. The spare verse format also helps in this manner. Troubles are alluded to, rather than described in detail.
Rose chooses every word carefully, rewarding readers who take their time. Like this:
"I find myself inside the rhythm
and join this going forward,
but I am behind, still." (Page 17)
I like the double meaning of still. And here she conveys May's fear at being alone at night, in just a few words:
I tell myself.
I would have heard
and the welcome sound
up my arms.
I squeeze my knees tighter.
come?" (Page 68)
Give May B. to young fans of frontier novels, novels in verse, or survival stories. It would make a great companion read to the Little House books, or Caddie Woodlawn, or even a stepping stone for younger readers not quite ready for the challenge of Hattie Big Sky.
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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