Saturday, 14 July 2012

review: May B.

by Caroline Starr Rose
Schwartz & Wade, January 10 2012
historical middle-grade

The wheat crop has been dismal. May B. has been sent to her neighbours to help out, which means a few more dollars, one less person to clothe, one less mouth to feed  -- never mind the fact that it'll interrupt her schooling or separate her from her brother Hiram. Mr. and Mrs. Oblinger are painfully new to prairie life, but May never imagined that she'd be left alone in a snowed-in soddy for the winter...
The cover:

I adore illustrated covers, as you might know, and this colour scheme is just beautiful. Browns and blues usually work in stellar ways together, and here they do. However, I wouldn't say it gives off necessarily an 1870s vibe. Or a historical vibe at all, really. But that's just a small quibble; it's easy enough to find out this book is set in the past.

The book:

This is a novel-in-verse. I normally detest novels-in-verse; to me, I've always felt you could take a regular prose novel and add some line breaks where normally you'd have italics or paragraphs or other form of emphasis, and voilà, tu a un livre de poésie. This novel showed me how verse can shine on its own. Honestly, I was sold on the first page:
I won't go.

"It's for the best," Ma says,
yanking to braid my hair,
trying to make something of what's left.

Ma and Pa want me to leave and live with strangers.

I won't go.
It only gets better. May B.'s thoughts translate exceedingly well into verse, which fits the story perfectly as she spends the majority of the novel alone. The poetry's fluidity prevents us from getting bored with only May B. as company, and at the same time develops her character by revealing fears and dreams connected to her home.

Speaking of her home, the setting and atmosphere are also aspects of the novel that benefit from the poetry:
When the world is black,
I'm most alone,
the silence thick around me.
I pray for wind,
for rain,
for the meadowlark
to break
the constant pound of quiet.

What is that?
What is at the door?
Flashbacks concerning family and school life are neatly interspersed with updates to May B.'s situation (one entire chapter: "71 / I have almost eaten / to the bottom of the apple barrel.") so that the pace never lacks for movement. At the same time, we're introduced to the family as well as the arduous prairie lifestyle. Adding to the latter is the curious, intriguing predicament of Mr. and Mrs. Oblinger.

May B. lacks a truly upright story arc. There's not much depth;  what you see is what you get. You know May B. will have to survive the winter, and find her way back. Still, it's an enjoyably quiet read recommended for verse-lovers and non-verse-lovers alike.

Rating: 4 out of 5