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Monday, August 27, 2012

May B, written by Caroline Starr Rose. schwartz & wade, Harper. 2012. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"Pa deserves the mess he's made,
sending me here.
His only daughter
by strangers,
by family,
left behind
by classmates,
by Teacher."

It was fascinating to read a second book, in as many days, about dyslexia. It is a compelling issue in this story from Kansas in the late 1800s. Mavis Betterly, known as May B, is a second mouth to feed in a family where money is scarce and solutions are few. In an attempt to help the family circumstance, Ma and Pa decide to hire May out to neighbors who are newly arrived. Mr.Oblinger works hard to create a new home for he and his wife and is gone long hours each day. His wife is homesick, and ill with wanting to be somewhere else. He thinks that a helper/companion might help to ease her misery.

The choice between sending Hiram, May's older brother, or herself hinges on the need for a son's usefulness. He is deemed more necessary to the running of their farm. May is furious, and resents that decision. She is experiencing difficulty at school and can't see how being away for four months will help her get ahead. Pa promises he will get her home before Christmas; but, it's only August. Off they go...fifteen miles west! It's a long, lonely, boring journey and May has little to say.

The Oblinger's soddy is uninviting, Mrs. Oblinger is miserable and demanding; but, Pa takes the money offered and is soon on his way back home, leaving May to live in close quarters with strangers. When Mrs. O can take it no longer, she runs away, leaving May to show her 'leaving note' to Mr. O. He is frantic and goes after her, thus leaving May alone in a new place.

Not sad enough? Days pass and there is no word from either. There are no neighbors, no visitors and May must find a way to take care of herself as the seasons turn to fall, and then to winter. A harsh prairie blizzard leaves her trapped in the house, with a dwindling store of food and heat. She has spent months with no company, hearing no voices and not even really using her own. She uses all of the skills learned at home to create meals, practice lessons and keep her spirits up. Finally, she decides she must take the bull by the horns and make her way toward home. She sets out with little food, scarce protection from the elements and a broom to ward off wolves and other animals.

A debut novel, written in verse, is read quickly and packs a lot of emotion into the long, lonely days. May struggles physically to take care of her everyday needs, while also concerned about the effects of isolation and loneliness. She works hard to do her lessons, always with the hope of being a teacher one day. She will not let her unsympathetic teacher at school discourage her. She will learn in her own way, and she will do it successfully. May is a powerful voice and a most admirable young woman:

"I slip into my coat,
pack my pillowcase,
then straighten the soddy before I go.
If Mr. Oblinger does return someday,
I want him to find things in their proper
the bench tucked under the table,
the rocker angled properly.
There is nothing I can do with the dirty
bean pot
except fill it with fresh snow.
I leave one quilt folded
over the back of the rocker.
The other will offer some protection outside."

Truly wonderful!

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