Dust Girl, by Sarah Zettel

Note: It's time for another batch of reviews, dear readers. Our "To Be Read" shelf has reached precarious heights, and we live in an earthquake-prone state.
Sarah Zettel's Dust Girl has been criticized for its cover art, which several reviewers felt failed to convey an important element of the book—that the heroine is biracial. I wasn't hugely bothered by this, as the character is supposed to be able to “pass” as white and the cover model resembles the book's description, but I do have my own objections to the cover: A) it doesn't do much to evoke the book's Dust Bowl-era setting, and B) it's ridiculously boring. Seriously, with a book this enjoyably creepy, that was the best they could do? A girl in a plain white top and a face in some sand?

Dust Girl mashes together history, fantasy, and horror into a vivid take on 1930s America. The book's protagonist is Callie LeRoux, a teenage girl who helps her half-mad mother run a hotel in Slow Run, Kansas. 1935 was not a good time to be hotelier in the Dust Bowl, but Callie's mother insists they remain in Slow Run until Callie's long-lost father returns, despite the dearth of paying customers and the constant dust storms that leave asthmatic Callie struggling to breathe. When her mother vanishes during a particularly violent storm Callie left totally alone—until a man appears, claiming to know something about both her mother's whereabouts and her mysterious father's disappearance.

The Depression-era plot elements packed into Zettel's book lend themselves surprisingly well to the horror genre. The novel features rampant racism, locusts, dust storms, a brutal private detective hired to keep people from hopping the trains, and culminates in a hellish dance-marathon sequence inspired by the (even more hellish) novel They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. Dust Girl is far from perfect—Callie's love interest is under-developed, and I could see the final plot twist coming from a mile away—but it is both well-written and unusual. Spotty characterization can be redeemed in later installments, but real creativity is in short supply when it comes to YA fiction, which too-often rewards authors for churning out ever-paler copies of whatever is selling well at the moment.

This is the first book in a projected trilogy, but I can't find any news about a release date for book two. (Always a concern; you guys know how I feel about waiting.) While the ending of Dust Girl isn't exactly a cliffhanger, there is a lot of story yet to be told. If you're a fan of supernatural and/or historical YA fiction and you've been blessed with a patient nature, I recommend this novel wholeheartedly. If only the first half of that sentence is true, you might want to wait to pick up Dust Girl until the next book in the series is visible on the horizon.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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