Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Challenges: List of Ten
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Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run, Kansas, helping her mother run their small hotel and trying not to think about the father she’s never met. Lately all of her energy is spent battling the constant storms plaguing the Dust Bowl and their effects on her health. Callie is left alone, when her mother goes missing in a dust storm. Her only hope comes from a mysterious man offering a few clues about her destiny and the path she must take to find her parents in "the golden hills of the west" (California).
Along the way she meets Jack a young hobo boy who is happy to keep her company—there are dangerous, desperate people at every turn. And there’s also an otherworldly threat to Callie. Warring fae factions, attached to the creative communities of American society, are very aware of the role this half-mortal, half-fae teenage girl plays in their fate.
My first impression of this book was some exasperation: "Yes, we get it... There's a lot of dust. OMG pllleeaaaase move on." The author does thorough job of setting the scene in Dust Bowl during the 1930s, as well as depicting the bleak lifestyle of those who live there, but I felt a little hit over the head with it at times. Luckily, things pick up once there is this crazy (and I mean multi-state, bonafide CRAY-ZEE) dust storm where Callie's mom ambiguously goes missing and some random man shows up on her doorstep. At first I was a skeptic, but I ended up getting very enraptured by this mysterious man with the night-sky eyes, and soon my doubts were forgotten. I only wish he could have stuck around for more than a chapter.
Well, due to a series of twists and complications during this epic dust storm, our friend Callie ends up taking in a gangly scoundrel named Jack to help her play hostess to a family at her mother's inn. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say there are GIANT bugs (ew), prophecies, car chases, magic, crazy vigilantes, a pilgrimage, and as expected, a lot of dust. Callie learns that the father she never met was in fact a fairy prince, making her a Half-Black, Half-White, Half-Human, Half-Fae Princess to the Unseelie Court. And so the plot thickens.
Eventually the dust settles (see what I did there?) and Callie and Jack come into the acquaintance of a few fairy folk. Now, I don't know a lot about fairies, but it seemed to me that this was a slightly new take on an old thing. You still have the Seelie and Unseelie, and fairies are still super vicious and cunning, but in this telling, the source of a fairy's power comes from the wishes of the people around her. Also interesting about the author's interpretation is that the war is not only between Seelie and Unseelie: other magical folk are involved too. For instance, Callie's visitor at the beginning of the dust storm? He's most likely a Native American deity (pretty awesome, huh?)
For those of you who are big on romance, there is a cutie love interest, but I'm just going to warn you from the get-go that nothing happens. I don't know if this is a function of the time period or of the two of them, but there was really no swoon so I am hoping that things get a little steamier as time goes on.
I think I might have liked the book better if it was written in 3rd person, because frankly, I found Callie's head to be a little boring and more than a little confusing at times. Action scenes were extremely disorienting and after trying to make sense of the first few, I ended up skimming the rest because I could never get a clear picture of where they were or what was happening. This also had the effect of lowering the stakes so that I don't think I was ever as properly worried or invested as I would have liked to be. The pace of the novel was generally pretty slow, and things never quite took off until the final few of chapters. In future books I hope that we get more general mythology (both fairies and other powers), some romance, and the reuniting of Callie and her parents because I think that she'll realize once she finds them that they have a lot to work through.
My final note is about the cover. While I think that it's a beautiful cover, I was really appalled to realize that Callie is half-black and this was not reflected in the artwork. I understand that most covers are made from stock photos, and that there are not a lot of non-caucasian stock photos out there, but I don't care. There is absolutely no excuse to whitewash a cover, even if you have to sacrifice the quality of the cover to properly reflect the race of the protagonist. White washing is a problem, and it needs to stop now. I sincerely hope that the publisher will hear this outcry from bloggers and chose to change the artwork for the paperback, but it still grieves me that we have to have this conversation at all.