May B. is the first book by Caroline Starr Rose, an author who has been attempting to get published for years. It is written in a unique verse told in the first person by May B., a girl living in Nebraska during the 1888 blizzard in which thousands died, though the time is never actually specified in the book.
May B. has dyslexia, and she wants to learn to read but she simply can’t. She is smart at other things, but words keep tricking her, and eventually her parents take her out of school and send her off to work as a maid for Mr. and Mrs. Obligner, who were just recently married. Mrs. Obligner doesn’t like the dirty countryside so much, and tensions between the two are high. May B. tries to help, but there’s nothing she can do. She keeps trying to learn to read, but Mrs. Obligner always makes her stop if she catches her.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Obligner eventually decides to go back to her family, and Mr. Obligner abandons the house, leaving May B. in it. She has a chance to escape and to go back to her family (it’s fifteen miles back home), but is too afraid, especially after she hurts her ankle and learns that there is a wolf sneaking about. So she lives there alone, without much food, and waits for her Pa to come and pick her up for Christmas. There is a huge snowstorm, and May can barely even get out of the house even if she wanted to. How will she make it home alive in the middle of a massive storm?
Book trailer for May B.
This book does a good job of blending together historical, emotional, and adventure parts of the story. No date or much description of setting is given, yet we can pretty much tell. May’s dyslexia is mentioned, but there is not any dwelling on it nor any resolution; nor is it ever identified as dyslexia in the book. And all of this is mixed in with May being away from her family and having to survive on her own for months.
My general rule with kids books is that if a kid would never have thought to write it, then it’s not a good book. May’s dyslexia is certainly not something most kids would write about, but Miss Rose was a teacher in the past and dedicated the book to students who she felt that she could’ve done better with, so it is quite understandable that she would write about a girl with learning problems. Nevertheless, I think it detracts from the story as a read for kids.
The verse style is also very interesting. It gives the novel an austere feel, leaves a lot to the imagination, and confines the book clearly to May’s experience. Although I think it is something adults will appreciate more than kids, it does also leave the room open to more action and worries because we only see May’s view of the world.
I really like the idea of finding the place where the earth meets the sky, something referred to time after time throughout the book as something May and her brother are trying to find. They’ve even made a bet about who will find it first. Clearly May B. knows children well to write about a concept like that, and what is even more cool is what it represents: A world of beauty and peace, the way the world should be. What is most endearing is that even though May and her brother haven’t found it yet, they have absolutely no doubt that they will.
In the end, this book is well-written, with an excellent look inside the character’s mind and interesting action and ideas. On the other hand, it is hard for me to recommend this book because it does have some things that will make it less appealing to kids. The dyslexia part is probably the biggest thing; if that was replaced with something more exciting to kids this book would be a real winner. It is really a book that adults will appreciate more than children will, as a lot of the beauty of the simple verse style will not be understood by kids; they’ll just know something impressive is going on.
Nevertheless, the story definitely keeps itself moving, and anyone will be excited to see how it turns out. So I recommend it for middle grade girls who are already serious readers. There is no doubt that Miss Rose is a very good writer and I’m excited to see what her next works are like. Blue Birds is coming out at the beginning of next year, and expect a review in January.