Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Across the Desert

Bowling, Dusti. Across the Desert
October 12th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jolene lives in Phoenix with her mother, who is suffering with a pain pill addiction after the two were involved in a car accident and the mother was badly injured. She doesn't have a lot of friends, but watches one girl who flies an ultralight aircraft, "Addie Earhart" on a streaming service and has been in contact with her. Addie's father has passed away, and her mother doesn't want her to fly, which is why she only live streams her adventures and doesn't record them. One day, when Jolene is on the computer in the library researching solutions for her mother's problems, she catches one of Addie's flights... but Addie crashes in the desert. Jolene tries to get help at the local fire station and tries to call on the phone, but no one takes her seriously. Absolutely certain that her online friend is in serious trouble, she gets on a bus and takes off late in the evening for the closet town to Addie. On the bus, she is befriended by Marty, who is a little older and suspects that Jolene is making bad choices. She definitely is-- she's planning on walking 80 miles through the desert at night with some water, crackers, and a can of sardines. Marty convinces Jolene to stay the night at Marty's grandfather's, but Jolene sneaks out in the night, "borrows" a motorbike, crashes, and falls asleep in front of an abandoned building. Luckily, Marty finds her the next day, and the two trek through the desert to find Addie. They eventually do, and struggle to get the badly injured girl back to civilization. She's broken both legs and has other injuries. Marty's mother is very helpful to Jolene; because of a family circumstance similar to what Jolene's mother is experiencing, Marty and her mother are very interested in getting both Jolene and her mother the help they need. Addie and Jolene continue to be in contact, so more good than bad has come from their ill-considered adventure.
Strengths: There are a growing number of middle grade books that cover family members who have opioid addictions, such as Hopkins' What About Will, Bishop's Where the Buffalo Roam, Campbell's Rule of Threes, and Messner's The Seventh Wish, but this gives an added level of interest by sending Jolene on an adventure to rescue someone else. Bowling has a helpful note at the end of the book about her own family's experience with addiction, which will be helpful to students who might be in a similar situation. Marty is a great character, and her youthful maturity is a great foil for Jolene's wreckless, single minded sense of mission. There are not a lot of books set in the US Southwest, and Bowling does a great job at working the landscape inso her stories. This will appeal to a variety of readers who want books about adventure, family drama, or children much like themselves who are struggling.
Weaknesses: While I admire Bowling's decision to keep this book short and to the point, I felt that a bit more back story would have helped to make Jolene's series of really awful decisions more understandable. While we get glimpses in flash back of how bad things have been at school and at home, when we meet Jolene at the library and she decides to take off, things don't seem bad enough to warrant her behavior. Of course, children will think her actions are fine. I did appreciate that Marty had sense enough to be alarmed that Jolene was meeting an online "friend".
What I really think: I liked this one more than The Canyon's Edge, and since Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus has been popular, I will buy this one for fans of Behren's Alone in the Woods and Disaster Days. 
Ms. Yingling

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