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Fans of Libba Bray’s The Diviners will love The American Fairy Trilogy’s stylish blend of fantasy and twentieth-century history.
Callie LeRoux is choking on dust. It settles on the food in the kitchen. It seeps through the cracks in the hotel that Callie and her mother run in Kansas. It’s slowly filling her lungs. Callie’s begged her mother to leave their town, like their neighbors have already done, but her ...
Fans of Libba Bray’s The Diviners will love The American Fairy Trilogy’s stylish blend of fantasy and twentieth-century history.
Callie LeRoux is choking on dust. It settles on the food in the kitchen. It seeps through the cracks in the hotel that Callie and her mother run in Kansas. It’s slowly filling her lungs. Callie’s begged her mother to leave their town, like their neighbors have already done, but her mother refuses. She’s waiting for Callie’s long-gone father to return.
Just as the biggest dust storm in history sweeps through the Midwest, Callie discovers her mother’s long-kept secret. Callie’s not just mixed race—she’s half fairy, too. Now, Callie's fairy kin have found where she's been hidden, and they're coming for her.
While red dust engulf the prairie, magic unfolds around Callie. Buildings flicker from lush to shabby, and people aren’t what they seem. She catches glimpses of a tail, a wing, dark eyes full of stars. The only person Callie can trust may be Jack, the charming ex-bootlegger she helped break out of jail.
From the despair of the Dust Bowl to the hot jazz of Kansas City, from dance marathons to train yards, to the dangerous beauties of the fairy realm, Sarah Zettel creates a world rooted equally in American history and in magic, where two fairy clans war over a girl marked by prophecy.
In a Month Called April, a County Called Gray
Once upon a time, I was a girl called Callie. That, however, ended on Sunday, April 14, 1935. That was the day the worst dust storm ever recorded blew across Kansas. That was the day Mama vanished.
That was the day I found out I wasn't actually a human being.
Now, mind, I didn't know any of this when my cough woke me up that morning. Hot, still air, damp with my own breath, pressed against my face, and my tongue felt as stiff and strange as the sole of somebody else's shoe inside my mouth. Unwinding the muslin scarf, which Mama made me wear over my mouth and nose when I slept, didn't help much. It was already too hot and too dusty to breathe easy. Through the layers of sackcloth and muslin that we used for curtains, I could see the sun hovering like a rotten orange over the straight black Kansas horizon. Dust carried by the wind scratched and pattered against the windowpane, trying to get inside.
I lived with my mama in the Imperial Hotel in Slow Run, Kansas. Once, it was the finest hotel in the county, with its Moonlight Room, and the smoking lounge all decked out in red velveteen and gold fringe, and a ladies' parlor sporting an Italian marble fireplace so big I could stand up in it. Even empty, it was the biggest, grandest home imaginable.
Slow Run itself was not a place you ever heard of, unless you had to live there or stop overnight on your way somewhere else. Used to be a lot of people did stay overnight. A lot of things used to happen in Slow Run. The trains used to bring in travelers and take out carloads of wheat from the grain elevator. Mama used to make plenty of money running the hotel her parents started.
It used to rain. But now Kansas was part of the Dust Bowl, along with Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, and had been for five, maybe six years. I could just about remember the time when I looked out my window to see the green wheat rippling all around the straight lines of clapboard buildings that made up Slow Run. Now there was nothing but the blowing dirt under that rotten orange sun.
I jumped off my brass bed, ran to the bathroom, and switched on the tap. Water came out in a thin gray stream, but at least it came. It didn't always. I drank a little to rinse my mouth. It tasted like old tin. I plugged the basin drain and ran about an inch of water into the sink so I could scrub my face and hands with the little piece of store-bought soap. I wiped myself down with the washrag so the soap wouldn't get into the basin water. I got store-bought soap because of my good skin, Mama said. My skin was cream-colored and soft with not too many freckles. But that meant I had to take special care of it, and always wear a hat and gloves when I went outdoors so I wouldn't turn brown. I had good eyes too, she said, a stormy blue-gray color that people said turned steel gray when I got mad. My hair was another story. My black hair was my mother's worst enemy. "So coarse," she'd mutter while she combed the tangles out. She'd wash it in lye water and lemon juice, when we could get them. But even when we couldn't, it had to be brushed a hundred strokes every night and kept done up in tight braids so it would be nicely wavy.
"When you're older, Callie, we'll put it up in a proper chignon," Mama told me. "It'll be so pretty. Until then, we'll just have to do our best."
Doing our best meant a lot of things to Mama. It meant keeping ourselves and the hotel clean, and minding our manners even when there was no one to see or care. It meant being patient, even on the worst days when my lungs felt so heavy from breathing in the blow dust all the time that they dragged my whole body down.
My workday dress used to be yellow, but wash soap and dust had turned it a kind of pale brown. I looped my scarf over my arm and carefully carried my wash water down the short, narrow hallway. Our staff quarters at the back of the hotel had two bedrooms, the kitchen, and a little sitting room. As expected, the kitchen was empty. Mama would be somewhere in the main part of the hotel, trying to chase Gray County back outside.
I scooped one cup of water out of my basin and poured slow drips onto the tomatoes growing in soup cans on the windowsill. The rest went into the tin bucket by the door for the chickens. Before opening the door, though, I pulled on my canvas work hat and gloves and tied my scarf securely over my face.
As soon as I stepped off the porch, sweat prickled on the back of my neck and at the edges of my scarf. The stems from our dead garden rattled in the hot wind. A brown grasshopper clung to one broken twig, waiting for a chance to get into the house and between my sheets.
I tried not to hate the hoppers, even when they got into the water basin or my shoes. The only reason we still had chickens was that the birds could live on hoppers and the little green worms that crawled out of the sunbaked fence posts.
The hens fought each other over the water while I helped myself at the nesting boxes. We were lucky today. Six warm brown eggs went into my pockets. My mouth watered. Maybe we could sell a few at the store for flour, or milk, or even butter, if there was any at Van Iykes's Mercantile. The mercantile was the last store in town. There used to be a choice between Van Iykes's and Schweitzer's Emporium. But last week, Mr. and Mrs. Schweitzer locked their doors, tossed the key in the dust, climbed into their truck with their babies, Sophie and Todd, and drove away. Mama and I stood out on the porch and watched them leave.
"Cowards," I muttered, because I didn't want to think about how much I wanted to leave with them.
As if that thought was a signal, my cough started up again, in sharp little bursts. It hurt, but not as much as knowing Mama would never leave Slow Run.
The truth was, Mama was kind of crazy, and had been for years, but there was nothing anybody could do about it. Especially not me. She acted normal about most things. About everything, really, except my papa. My papa, Daniel LeRoux, had run out on Mama before I was born. He'd promised he would come back, and she'd promised she would wait for him. That promise kept us both pegged to this place while the state of Kansas dried up and blew away.
The wind swirled dust across the tops of my shoes and tugged at my skirts.
Look shhhhaaaarrrrp, said a slow, soft voice. Look -shhhhaaaarrrrp. Shhhheeee's nearrrr. . . .
"Who's that!" I spun around. But there was nobody there.
Shhhheeee's nearrrr . . . shhhheeee'ssss closssse. . . .
"Casey Wilkes, if that's you . . ." I ran around the corner of the hotel.
From here, the whole of Slow Run spread out stark and plain: the square clapboard and brick buildings marking out the straight, dust-filled streets; the four church steeples weathered a pale gray; the dusty tumbleweeds leaning lazily against the walls. Farther out, sagging barbed-wire fences ran alongside the black lines of the railroad tracks all the way to the hazy outline of the grain elevator, with the -spindly windmills standing sentry in between.
What there wasn't was any person close enough to whisper in my ear. Except I could still hear the soft, deep, strangely beautiful voice.
Closssser, closssser. Look shhhhaaaarrrrp. . . .
I turned and ran for the kitchen door.
Posted April 29, 2013
Posted January 20, 2013
Posted August 21, 2012
Every now and then, a book comes along that gives a reviewer pause and
the reasons can be complicated, perhaps even hard to explain. Such is
the case with Dust Girl and what I think of it. First, the downside.
Callie, star of the show, is biracial, being the daughter of a white
mother and a black father. Once again, the publishing industry has
failed to capitalize on this fairly uncommon element and has put a
slightly dark white girl on the cover. The most telling discrepancy is
the hair—in the book, Callie talks about what her mother would do to try
to hide the texture and curl of her hair, primarily by keeping it
tightly braided. The hair on the cover is clearly not as described in
the book. The skin also gives a false impression, certainly not “cream
colored …with not too many freckles”—there is not a freckle in sight.
The cover decisions are not the author’s fault as an author rarely has
any say about cover art with major publishing houses but I’m not alone
among readers when I wonder why these publishers won’t gladly depict a
person of color as just that. Do they really think such a cover would
deter sales? Perhaps they do think that and perhaps they would lose a
few buyers but I guarantee they’d gain others who are actively looking
for more diversity. (By the way, they did get Callie’s eyes right, a
“stormy blue-gray…that…turned steel gray”.) The only other negative
I’ll mention is that I thought the story was a bit too slow in the
beginning but that is truly a minor quibble and soon forgotten as things
pick up speed. I know about the Dust Bowl, of course, but this book
does more to make the reader feel and understand what it was really like
since John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Ms. Zettel handily evokes
the era with its music and its railroad hobo communities and her spare
prose brings the despair and heartache of the time and place to the
forefront of the reader’s attention, all the while weaving a faery theme
into the reality we know. By crafting this as a tale of adversarial
faery factions, Ms. Zettel has found a way to explore the racial and
economic tensions of the 1930′s in an unusual and entertaining manner.
The end of Callie LeRoux’s old life comes on April 14, 1935, when one of
the worst dust storms recorded hits Slow Run, Kansas, her mother
disappears, and Callie learns she isn’t really human. It’s then that
very peculiar things begin to happen and she meets a hobo boy named Jack
Holland, a boy who will prove to be the companion she needs on the
journey that’s about to begin. Sarah Zettel is a very accomplished
writer and one who can be depended upon to tell a good tale. Being a fan
of dark fantasy and of young adult fiction, I was hoping to find this an
entertaining story that would hold my attention. Dust Girl did not let
me down and I’ll be looking forward eagerly to Book Two in the American
Posted August 3, 2012
Throughout the entire book I got the feeling that the author was trying to convey a message but I had no idea what the message was.
This is a different faerytale from the norm. The author clearly knows her history of the dustbowl of America and human rights concerning blacks at the time the story’s set.
In fact the history knowledge actually got in the way of the story for me. The story itself was a little too weak with random occurrences that don’t hold any purpose in the story. The beginning entrance of the Native American was one of those that occurred.
We have clichéd moments such as the scene in the field where our main protags are being chased. Relations that suddenly appear from nowhere assuring Callie that they can help with the most bizarre and unreal get-out scenarios. Our main male protagonist, Jack, does a disappearing act making us believe he’s run out on her, and he has.
The dance-off at the end really ended it for me. How could all the ‘good guys’ allow Callie to even enter a ball room knowing what her family are going to do to her and Jack
Unfortunately, I found the story a little dull in comparison to the descriptive setting originally created.
Posted July 26, 2012
Callie lives with her mom in a grand old hotel in the middle of the Dust Bowl and has spent the last years watching it, and their town, slowly blow away with the wind. If this life wasn't difficult enough Callie has a dark secret—she's half black. Her dad is a jazz musician who promised to come back for her mother someday. Or so Callie thinks. Then in the middle of a giant dust storm Callie's mother reveals the truth, he dad isn't human at all. He's a fae prince. Callie's anger at her father's abandonment fuels the storm around them and her mom disappears, taken by fae who want to come for Callie as well. Because neither court is terribly happy about Callie's existence.
Dust Girl is a fantastic period fantasy tale. It will appeal to lovers of classical fairy tales (the old Grimm types, not the Disney re-makes). The blending of Depression-era conflict with tricky fairy prophecies is enchanting. Highly recommended.
Posted July 26, 2012
Yes, there is a new fantasy trilogy to hit the shelves in 2012 and this one is...unique! That is an extremely hard word to use in this day and age, but this is not about the ‘fanged ones’ or the ‘barking wolf’ ones at all.
Callie LeRoux and her mom live in a town called Slow Run, Kansas. Right now they are living through one of the most horrific dust storms that hammered the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s and chased many home owners into other states, because they could not live (and a lot of them didn’t) through these particular storms. Homes were ruined, crops dried up and nothing the poor people tried to do made it any better.
Running a small hotel in town, Callie and her mom are still there when Callie is taken seriously ill by the dust that constantly flies through their home. She wants out, but her mom is still waiting for Callie’s father to return and will not leave until he arrives. However, when a particularly fierce dust storm hits the town, Callie’s mom runs away and no one can find her.
Suddenly a mysterious man called Baya turns up and tells Callie a story about what her future life holds; he also unveils the secret that Callie is both half mortal and half fairy. Callie is told that she must follow the path to ‘the golden hills of the west’ in order to find her parents and get a new life for herself.
On her journey she meets Jack, a young boy who has been riding the rails in order to get out of the area, and he decides to go with her to California. In their travels they run into some very odd folks (good and bad) which keep the story going. Among these beings are people who are desperate to kidnap Callie because she is, in fact, quite a ‘star’ in the fairy world. With Callie doing her best to evade the kidnappers who are trying to capture her in order to claim her powers for themselves, this adventure keeps right on going until the last page is turned.
The writing in this novel is very good and unlike any fairy stories on the market today. Not to mention, Callie and her friends will leave a very solid, fun imprint on the imagination.
Quill Says: After reading the first in this series, readers will most definitely look forward to seeing what happens next!
Posted June 14, 2012
This tale takes place in Slow Run Kansas during the time of the great Dust Bowl. Zettel offers us an interesting tale of dark and light fairies, danger and discovery. Fans of folk lore, history and fairies will delight in this tale. We meet protagonist Callie LeRoux at her home, a grand hotel in Slow Run. The town is all but deserted due to the dry conditions. Sand and dust have affected her health but her mother refuses to leave. Callie’s father, a man she has never met promised he’d return. When a horrific dust storm occurs and Callie’s mother goes missing, a mysterious man appears. He tells Callie she must head west to California to find her parents. The tale and the journey offer Callie insight about herself, her parents and her destiny. The journey is difficult as Callie must determine who to trust and who to run from. Filled with twists, murder and strange creatures this tale was entertaining. Callie is unique in more ways than one. She is of mixed color at a time when society had strict rules regarding race.(although the cover in no way reflects this) In a lot of ways Callie has had to be an adult, since her mother has obvious issues. Callie quickly learns that she is only half-human and watching her discover her powers was fun. She is tough, smart and surprisingly level-headed, despite all that is occurring. I loved some of her kick-butt action scenes. Jack is street-wise and sensitive. He cares for Callie and tries to help her. He knows the streets and every con imaginable. He is also welled versed in lore and is able to offer Callie clues about the parties involved and her role in it. At one point I disliked his actions, but he did redeemed himself. The Fae bring us an odd mix of colorful characters. There are two groups The Seelie and the Unseelie. Both want Callie in their court and ultimately she will need to decide. The world building was fascinating. Zettel swept us back in time and I felt like I was there. Her depiction of the period was breathtaking and I could taste the dust. Callie is the center of a prophecy and both Fae kingdoms are vying for her. This created a lot of twists, turns and heart-palpitating moments. Mixed into this fantasy, Zettel touches on the topic of prejudice. She focuses on race as well as social classes. A scene towards the end is steeped in religion and I had to reread to understand exactly what happened. This was the only bump in an otherwise evenly paced tale. At this time there is no romance, and I am curious to see what happens next. I want to thank Random House and netGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my unbiased review.
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