Survival in the Storm
by Katelan Janke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Survival in the Storm (Dust Bowl) / 0-439-21599-4
I realize that it's a common tactic in children's literature to make the adults in their lives capricious, unfair, or stupid in an attempt to heighten tension and propel drama that might not otherwise happen in the presence of consistent, fair, intelligent adults. But I've come to expect more from the Dear America series, and I am disappointed with "Survival in the Storm".
Grace's parents have always dreamed of owning their own farm and the Texas dust bowl seemed like as good a place as any to settle (or it was all they could afford - the novel doesn't delve deeply into the reasoning here). They rapidly learn the hard way that an environment of constant dust storms scouring the land is not conducive to growing wheat, which is apparently surprising to them. They also note that "dust pneumonia" is steadily infecting most of the folks in the region - a condition similar to the miner's 'black lung' where the lungs become so full of sediment that the person has trouble breathing. Particularly for children and the elderly, the condition is largely fatal.
So, faced with living in a place where farming is almost impossible and the death of your children is highly probable...Grace's father boldly declares that he'll be the last man in the area to give up his dream and move away. As Grace's friends sicken and die from the dust, and as the child death toll climbs, we are at least "comforted" that Grace's father is sticking to his guns. This is frustrating, because a lot of people lived in the dust bowl for good reasons other than sheer stubbornness, and I wish that these reasons had been present in this novel other than some "dream" nonsense that does not take into account that your children are in real danger. And, of course, the fact that Grace's parents refuse to accept any government aid out of pride is equally grating - they just want to pay their taxes in peace and never receive anything in return from the government, which seems like a pretty one-sided relationship between government and governed.
Of course, to also heighten "tension", Grace's parents are unfair and treat Grace and her little sister differently. Grace is expected to grow up immediately, in order to help around the house and with her sister, but Ruth is openly encouraged to stay a little girl forever (even when "being a little girl" causes Grace more work and chores) because she's the baby of the family and they'll not have another one to pamper after she grows up. This is unhealthy for both children and a rather grating way to advance the plot, in my opinion.
I am sure that this book would be reasonably enjoyable for children, but I am disappointed that the novel feels thin, padded these plot tricks, and with almost no substance to explain why so many farmers struggled to eke out some kind of existence in the dust bowl during the Depression.
~ Ana Mardoll
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