Book Review: May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

I watch a bird balance
on a blade of grass
bent low toward earth
to find a meal.
All creatures must work for their keep.

May B.
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Life on the Kansas prairie frontier is tough, and 12-year-old Mavis Betterly – May B. – knows it. A learning disability makes school especially challenging, but she is determined to do well, hoping to become a teacher herself one day. Instead of going to school this winter, though, May is headed to a stranger’s homestead 15 miles away. She will help his wife, newly arrived from the East, with the chores, earning a little money to help her own parents as well. “Just until Christmas,” they tell her. Just as May begins to settle in at the Oblingers’ sod house, both adults head into town, and they don’t come back. Trapped by a blizzard, May faces the brutal winter outside while confronting her own haunting memories inside. It will take all her toughness to make it home again


Novels in verse are a tricky thing. As a reader, I always ask what the verse form adds to the story that the author couldn’t have accomplished with prose. In May B., the short, spare poems work. They let the reader straight into May’s thoughts, creating vivid images of life on the frontier. May is a frontier girl, plain-spoken and hard-working, but she is also just twelve years old. One of my favorite passages captures her petulant voice as the gravity of her situation becomes apparent:

I am going to stay here,
wrapped in these quilts,
let the fire die,
and freeze to death
or maybe starve,
whichever comes first.
Then Pa will be sorry
for sending me here.
Was it worth
those few dollars
to find
you daughter dead?

She knows she has to get down to the business of saving herself, but what adolescent (or grown-up, for that matter) could resist having a good wallow in self-pity first?

May is a sharp observer, and the details she notices about the other characters bring them to life while keeping the focus squarely on her. Rose evokes May’s physical and emotional struggles with simple language and poetic rhythm that keep the reader in her world until the very end. A striking debut.

On shelves January 10, 2012.


Final Word
Sharp writing, engaging characters, and a thrilling survival story – what’s not to love?

e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request.

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5 Replies to “Book Review: May B. by Caroline Starr Rose”

  1. You had me with May B until you said a novel in verse. There were so many verse novels in 2011 and I thought a lot of them were just ok.

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