Dust Girl: The American Fairy Trilogy, Book 1

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Dust Girl: The American Fairy Trilogy, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Intricate historical novel contrasts Dust Bowl, fairy world.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Dust Girl presents both a vivid, well-researched portrait of life in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and a clever gloss on Celtic and North American folk traditions and music.

Positive Messages

In Dust Girl, Callie wants nothing more than to be reunited with her missing parents, but she learns that wishes are dangerous and that letting your own desires take over can lead to disaster.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although she's always responsible and empathetic, Callie has to learn to discipline herself even further once she learns to practice magic and starts to see what chaos it can cause. She discovers that not only is she is of mixed race, but she's half mortal, half fairy.

Violence

A vicious lawman hands out beatings to hobos, shoots at Callie and Jack in a chase through a trainyard, and kills one of their friends. There's some bloodshed and some supernatural ickiness involving a re-animated corpse. Characters are in constant jeopardy/peril.

Sex

Callie feels the first stirrings of romantic interest for her companion Jack, but the two don't have much time for flirting.

Language

Although there's no profanity in Dust Girl, characters use ethnic slurs such as "Mick" or "Jew boy." African-American characters are referred to as Negroes, which is historically accurate.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Callie's companion, Jack, grew up in a family of bootleggers. His carelessness with a still indirectly caused the death of someone close to him.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dust Girl is a clever, thoughtful, intricate fantasy that mixes U.S. history and Celtic, African-American, and Native American folklore and musical traditions. The main characters, Callie and Jack, are in constant jeopardy, and there's violence: A vicious lawman hands out beatings to hobos, shoots at Callie and Jack in a chase scene, and kills one of their friends. There's also some bloodshed and supernatural ickiness involving a re-animated corpse. While there's no profanity, characters use ethnic slurs such as "Mick" or "Jew boy." African-American characters are referred to as Negroes, which is historically accurate.

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What's the story?

In Dust Bowl-era Kansas, Callie LeRoux, already feeling abandoned by her long-disappeared father, is devastated after her mother goes missing in a sand storm. A mysterious stranger drops clues about Callie's destiny and tells her that she must search for her parents in \"the golden hills of the west\" (California). Accompanied by a hobo boy named Jack, Callie sets off to learn to harness powers bequeathed to her by her fairy blood. She's half-mortal and half-fairy, and her mortal side is half-African-American.

Is it any good?

DUST GIRL is more than a cut above the usual historical fantasy fiction. In her first novel for teens, award-winning science-fiction and fantasy author Sarah Zettel has constructed a Depression-era tale of music, magic, history, and folklore that's exciting, thoughtful, and well researched.

The contrast between Dust Bowl Kansas and the wondrous fairy lands generates the tension that propels the narrative. Readers will eagerly await the next volume in "The American Fairy Trilogy."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Great Depression and how it affected everyday life in the United States.

  • Why do fairy tales and folk stories often feature characters who are outwitted because of their own greed? 

  • How was everyday life different for African-Americans during the Great Depression? What things were white people allowed to do that were forbidden to African-Americans or immigrants?

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