“Dust Girl” by Sarah Zettel

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.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on ““Dust Girl” by Sarah Zettel

  1. Pingback: What makes a great blurb? « BookStore-BookBlogger Connection

  2. Pingback: Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel | Iris on Books

  3. This book looks really cool. I love historical fiction and sci/fi settings for books, and with the main character from an ethnic background even better. I’m a big fan of Sarah Zettel after reading her Vampire Chef Series, I think I’ll have to pick up this book next.

    • I’m going to have to read more of Sarah Zettel’s books. I have one more on my shelf that I’d like to get to sometime soon. I’m a big fan of books that blend genres to create such a unique reading experience. 🙂

  4. I really like the sound of this one, and particularly the setting. I recently read Mr Shivers which was set during the depression and it made for intriguing reading. This sounds just up my street.
    Thanks Grace
    Lynn 😀

    • You’re welcome! I haven’t read very many books set in the Depression, which made this one all the more interesting for me. 🙂

  5. I’m hoping to see Sarah Zettel at a book signing later this month, I was planning picking up a copy of her 1st Vampire Chef book, but sounds like I may need to buy this one as well!

    the good news is I know she’s already working on the 2nd book in the series, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to find out what happens. I agree with Katherine, it’s long past time the American dust bowl was part of our fantasy literature culture.

    • Oooh, nice. She seems lik eshe’d be an interesting author to get to meet.

      I’m excited to read the next book!

  6. I find the Dust Bowl to be an intriguing, underused setting. Definitely adding this to my TBR list.

    • It is, and I would never have expected it to be used in a fantasy story. I hope you enjoy it!

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