In the middle grade historical novel in poetry May B. by Caroline Rose (to be published January 2012 by Swartz and Wade), young Mavis Betterley, called May, has been sent away from home for the first time, assigned to be a helper for one of her rural Kansas farm neighbors for six months. Despite her personal challenges to reading, May is heart-broken at leaving school, and she longs for Christmas to come soon so she can rejoin her family on their farm. Then the unthinkable happens: May is left alone at the sod house. Once she realizes she has been abandoned on the prairie, 15 miles from her nearest neighbor, the next months become months of survival as May struggles to eat and remain warm in the harsh pioneer prairie climate.
I had never before read a novel in verse before, and it was rather a different experience. At first, I was struck by how simple the sentences were, and I thought that the author had simply avoided trying to write more complicated prose. But by the end, I saw it was as it needed to be. The simple structure paralleled May’s own frustrations at reading, and although I know little about dyslexia, I imagine a dyslexic child may find the short lines easier to read than long blocks of text. Thus, May’s story of survival and hope for the future can help the challenged reader because he or she is better able to access her story. Besides, May’s story is one of survival. Survival is a vital need: why fancy up the text with unnecessary words when just a few will do? Further, such short clipped lines were incredibly powerful in capturing the story, and by the end of the novel, I recognized that writing such poetic and succinct lines was an additional challenge for the author.
The after note by the author indicates that she was inspired by the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I could see that influence. Unlike in Laura’s case, May’s survival story is as she is alone. It added a tension to the book that I really enjoyed, even as an adult. I imagine the young middle grade reader will enjoy this historical fiction survival adventure as well.
Review copy provided by the publisher via netgalley.