May B by Caroline Starr Rose

May B
Caroline Starr Rose
Schwartz and Wade Books
ISBN: 978-1-58246-393-3

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Twelve-year old Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, May B for short, lives in a soddy on the Kansas prairie around the year 1870. Her family’s crop failed, and in order to survive financially, May’s parents hire her out to help a newlywed couple fifteen miles from May’s home. May doesn’t want to go. She wants to stay in school and become a teacher. But she has no choice. It is mid-summer, and May won’t see her family again until Christmas.

Once at the Oblingers, May tries to please the missus, but Mrs. Oblinger, a young girl herself from Ohio, is homesick and hates the isolation of prairie life. She runs away, back to Ohio. Her husband runs after her in a panic – leaving May alone – and does not return. Days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months. Initially, May revels in the freedom. For the first time in her life, she does what she wants when she wants. But soon, loneliness and fear replace the freedom. She doesn’t know the way home, and there are no nearby neighbors to ask for help. At first, she tries to keep track of the days on a calendar, but she soon gives up.

Time was made

for others,

not for someone

all alone.

To pass the time, she attempts to read the school primer she brought with her. May has dyslexia and struggles to read. Of course, they didn’t know about dyslexia back then. While Miss Sanders was encouraging and understanding, May’s second teacher simply made her feel stupid.

Miss Sanders told us that lines never end,

and numbers go on forever.

Here,

in short grass country,

I understand infinity.

Winter comes quickly, and May has not prepared. She has neither enough food nor fuel to last until her father returns. She bundles straw from the barn to burn in the stove. She learns to catch fish from the frigid stream with her bare hands. But it’s not enough. Especially after a blizzard buries the soddy beneath a bank of snow, trapping May in an icy grave.

Author Rose writes her wonderful debut middle grade historical fiction in beautiful poignant verse. Using few words, she vividly evokes the images, senses, and emotions seen and felt by May. This is a compelling page turner depicting the resilience, fortitude, and staunch determination of pioneer women. Highly recommended for fans of middle grade historical fiction and novels in verse.

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