It requires fear to be truly brave, but those who demonstrate bravery are exceptional at concealing the level of fear they truly feel. Throughout history, people have challenged the accepted limits of what is possible to run faster, go farther, climb higher, and dive deeper, each achievement causing people to marvel at the extent of human skill. Just like their male counterparts, women have done all these things too, often breaking more than just records with their endeavors. These women are the inspiration for the daring journey twelve-year-old Jolene takes in this newest novel by Dusti Bowling.
Across the Desert introduces readers to a young girl named Jolene who struggles to make ends meet as her mother faces the challenges of an opioid addiction. Without an external support system, Jolene does what she can to keep herself aimed at the future, diving into travel books and the stories of exceptional women in history. She has discovered another twelve-year-old named Abbie who bravely flies her ultralight in the Arizona desert, live-streaming her adventures for anyone to watch. When one flight goes awry and Jolene is the only witness, she must summon all of her courage to bring her friend to safety. Please see my full review here.
I flew through this story (pun intended); excellently paced, each chapter flows smoothly into the next. Using a combination of traditional narrative and Internet conversations, the story shifts back and forth from approximately thirty days in the past to the present day, establishing Jolene’s friendship with Addie alongside Jolene’s journey to rescue her. Though the bulk of the story only spans a weekend, Jolene learns a great deal about herself, her situation, and the wider world in this short span of time. Emotional and inspiring, this story expertly blends the pain of watching a loved one suffer with the elation that comes from overcoming a particularly difficult challenge.
Jolene’s life is not easy. Her mother has grown distant since a car accident about three years previously, leaving Jolene to manage things as well as she can on her own. Her anxiety builds, but in order to keep herself under control, Jolene pushes her “car crash feeling” into mental boxes and sets them aside. No matter how hard she tries, though, those boxes manage to find a way to reappear when they become too much to handle. Feelings of desperation, distrust, and unworthiness permeate Jolene’s psyche, but she is fortunate to find the right people at the right time to help both her and her mother find their way back to the light.
Written based on some of the author’s personal experiences, this novel is authentic in its delivery. Each character behaves as expected based on the things that have happened to them, and their stories unfold exactly as they need to. I appreciated the regular interjection of strong female trailblazers throughout the story as well as the fact that most of the characters in the novel are women, themselves. This parallel structure reinforces the fact that women have the strength and tenacity to achieve the impossible and can do so just as well as anyone else. This is an accessible and important story for middle grade readers to better recognize their own internal strength and the complexities of the world around them. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages!
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