Review: Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Title: Dust Girl
Author: Sarah Zettel
Genre: mythic fiction, supernatural fiction, young-adult, historical fiction
Series: The American Fairy Trilogy #1
Pages: 304 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected June 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

This new trilogy will capture the hearts of readers who adore Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series. 

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

"An unexpected delight" were the immediate words to pop into my head upon my all-too-soon completion of this historical remake of America in the Dust Bowl - with fairies! Teaching me once again that assumptions are flawed from the outset, both early and often Dust Girl exceeded my expectations. I got a thoroughly developed and humanly flawed heroine, a likeable rogue for a possible love interest, a fresh envisioning of the oft-used Seelie/Unseelie Courts of fae and a very unique background in which all these elements operate: Oklahoma, 1935 right in the grips of the Dust Bowl. From the first page I was taken completely by the story Sarah Zettel has crafted so skillfully and truthfully? I didn't want to end - the potential for awesome shown just in the creativity behind the ideas extends itself as well to the contents of the book.

Calliope referred to as "Callie" and her mom are barely making do in their dying town of Slow Run, Kansas. With a long-gone dad and a struggling mom, Callie is older than her age, mature and self-aware. Her personal evolution progresses right along with her travels to both find her mother and figure out her future - the more Callie sees and understands the more she matures and figures things out independently. She's a smart protagonist and it's easy to root for her with such a sympathetic voice. Callie is also one of the few non-white main characters in YA I've come across lately (Shadows on the Moon's Suzume is the only other I can recall), but thankfully that is not the forefront of her characterization. Callie's mixed race does play a part in the plot of the novel but it by no means defines who she is as a person or character. (I also wish cover more accurately portrayed how Callie is described... )I also appreciate the subtlety in which Callie's race was used as a reminder of the horrendous state of American prejudices without Zettel overdoing it. But what else doesn't define Callie? Her offbeat and thoroughly charming-in-a-rogueish-way love interest, Jack.

Jack is a great addition to the story. He balances out Callie's personality traits with flair, history and wit of his own. I have to admit one of the things I liked best about Jack was that he's not immediately introduced as some swoon-worthy love-interest, nor is his and Callie's connection all about teenage fluctuating hormones. In this very action-packed novel, Jack and Callie make for an unusual but oddly complementary pair. They work well together, despite the occasional bickering (who hasn't been "ready to kill him stone dead" referring to someone they care about?), and I liked them for one another... not that anything progresses to that kind of crux. <spoiler>They are two people used to hiding who they are: Jacob for his religion, Callie because of her multiple hidden heritages. They make sense for one another: they don't have to hide but can freely be themselves.</spoiler>Those looking for a romance-charged YA novel, this is not that book. And I love Dust Girl even more for not going that predictable and inevitably boring route. If anything, what happens between the two main characters is more of an age-appropriate "puppy love" than anything else and it is adorable, and doesn't rely on cheap tricks love triangles to create affecting problems for the two..

The atmosphere/background of the novel is complete and stretches to every aspect of the book. I thoroughly believed I was in the 1930's, and the dialogue reads like how I would expect for an impoverished girl/boy at those times ("I got nothing." "A crazy Eye-Talian", etc.) It feels authentic without patronizing. Zettel also has a unique and charming way with words to paint a vivid but not overdone tapestry of locations throughout Dust Girl. As Callie and Jack move across the dust-covered lands, each different locale springs to life with very tactile but not overly descriptive prose. It's obvious that research has gone into crafting as authentic a representation as possible and Zettel succeeds with flying colors. I also liked the sprinkles of other mythlogies and lore within this tale of fae and fairies: Baya the Coyote familiar to many Native religions, and even Callie's own real name "Calliope" was a player in ancient Greek mythology. These inclusions don't feel odd in the middle of such an America-centric novel, but rather more mesh seamlessly within the larger scope of Zettel's novel of magic. The 'magic' aspect of this could've been expounded upon more (and one of the reasons I rated this a 4 instead of 5 stars is because it wasn't detailed to my satisfaction) but what was there, was serviceable. And creepy. <spoiler>Particularly the Hopper family. I have a fear of grasshoppers (don't judge me! My brother used to hide them in my bed under my covers.) so as soon as Callie figures out what's so odd about the hungry family I got majorly squicked out.</spoiler>

The other main reason why this a 4 star review and not a 5 like I'd love it to, is that the ending leaves a little to be desired. While there are two more novels left to conclude this series, everything seemed a bit too easy and simple at the resolution. It was satisfying in the most part, but I expected more about the fae/magic/the Midnight People. I guess I will just have to be patient and wait for book #2.

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