Slow Run, Kansas is a backwater barely-town suffering greatly in the wake of the Great Depression. Dust storms rage and businesses are drying up. Callie and her mother live in and run the old Imperial Hotel. While it was once glamorous and busy, the Hotel is now crumbling and failing. But Callie and her mother have stayed in spite of it all. In spite of the dust that has settled in Callie's lungs. In spite of the lack of money and the struggle to keep the place running. And in spite of the fact that almost no one stops in Slow Run these days. They trudge along in hopes that Callie's father will keep his promise and return to them. Then, in a fit of desperation, Callie's mother calls on her to attempt to reach out to her father through means Callie doesn't even understand. Rather than bring her father home, Callie instead loses her mother as well. In order to get her back, Callie must travel West to California. But along the way, Callie will learn that everything she's come to believe may indeed be wrong. For Callie is far from normal and her life will soon be filled with magic and creatures beyond belief.
One thing everyone seems to agree on with Sarah Zettel's Dust Girl is that it's strange. I found it wonderfully imaginative! It brought to mind the magic of The Wizard of Oz and The Odyssey a la Oh, Brother Where Art Though. What's more, I found the setting to be completely unique and fabulous!
Fairies in Dust Bowl, Kansas. Oh, my! The only other Dust Bowl era fantasy I can recall coming across so far is Robert Jackson Bennett's Mr. Shivers. I'm sure (or I hope) there are others who have taken advantage of this time period and setting but none comes to mind. If it's truly that under exploited as a setting, I do hope that it will be taken advantage of more in the coming years.
Now Dust Girl is a YA fantasy and the first in the American Fairy Trilogy. Zettel does draw on some other inspirations that I'm sure many readers in the target audience will not be familiar with. The most blatantly obvious (and I caught it but it was also mentioned in the Author's Note) is They Shoot Horses, Don't They. I've not read Horace McCoy's book but I did randomly come across the film one evening. It's a truly strange and dark story. It sprang to mind the instant Callie comes across the flier for the dance marathon and I was pleased as punch that I recognized it.
My point in all this is that Dust Girl, as odd a story as it is, worked for me. It was different from anything else I'd come across and I found it highly entertaining. But I kind of like weird.
This is Zettel's first official teen release. She is the author of a number of previous fantasy novels but this is my first read by her.