He thought it was so exciting. He didn’t get it. It was bad enough when I had to hide being half black. Now I might not even be human at all. How was I supposed to hide that?
I received a copy of “Dust Girl” by Sarah Zettel from the publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I first heard about Sarah Zettel when I read Andrea’s review of Fool’s War, a sci-fi novel which featured a Muslim woman as a protagonist, and I’ve been meaning to read one of her books ever since.
“Dust Girl” is the first book in the American Fairies trilogy. It’s set during the Great Depression, and tells the story of Callie LeRoux, a girl growing up in the Kansas Dust Bowl. Most of the neighbors have fled town because of the dust storms, but Callie’s mother won’t leave because she’s waiting for Callie’s father to return home. Everyone in town believes that Callie’s father was an Irishman, but he was actually a traveling jazz musician, and, coincidentally, the prince of the fairies. When Callie’s mother disappears into a dust storm, she is forced to come face to face with her heritage. With the help of her friend Jack, she begins an adventure that includes giant bugs, hobos, and an undead railroad bull who is the type of villain that one can truly despise.
I have a problem with the book’s cover because Callie’s mixed race is a central plot point and is one of the things that she must come to terms with as the book progresses. The girl on the cover is way too white to match Callie’s description in the book, which could mean one of two things–either the publisher was sloppy and the artist didn’t actually read it, or the publisher is scared that showing a more realistic picture of Callie would hurt sales. I find either of these options incredibly stupid and short-sighted, as well as insulting. C’mon, Random House. You should be better than this.
I liked that Zettel chose to make the fairies black. A lot of SF/F tends to feature a rather homogeneous cast of characters, and I always appreciate stories that don’t fall into that category.
The magic system in “Dust Girl” is dependent on music. Since Callie is part fairy, any time she sings, hums, or plays the piano she is able to generate magic. Zettel uses music to make the setting even more vivid; songs ranging from Woody Guthrie to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” helps to create a strong sensory background for the story.
Sarah Zettel is able to blend together the genres of fantasy and historical fiction to create a story that brings to life what it was like to grow up in the Dust Bowl and to experience racial tensions during that time. Her story is filled with magic and music, and is another perfect example of what YA literature should be. The way that the mythology blends into 1930s culture reminds me a bit of the Charles de Lint/Terri Windling brand of mythic fiction, and I loved every minute of it.
One forewarning about the book is that the story doesn’t end. I wish that there had been a bit more resolution, and I can’t wait to see how the next two books in the trilogy develop!
I’d highly recommend this one to fans of both historical fiction and fantasy. The Great Depression setting paired with magic and fairies makes for a book that’s unlike anything else out there.