“It’s for the best,” May’s parents tell her as they ship her off to work on a neighbor’s homestead for a few months. It’s only 15 miles away, but in 1870s Kansas, it might as well be the edge of the universe. Still, times are tough, and 12-year-old May can bring in some money, so Pa takes her across the empty prairie to Mr. and Mrs. Oblinger’s misshapen sod house.

Mrs. Oblinger is a teenager, just four or five years May’s senior, who dislikes this new life on the prairie and soon runs off to go back to Ohio. Mr. Oblinger goes after her, leaving May all by herself, lost in the open spaces, with no idea of how to get home.

Alone in the vastness of the prairie, without even a gun and with winter coming on, May finds herself in a battle to survive. But it’s not easy for her, by herself, to carry out “the steps I’ll have to take, / the work that’s needed / just to exist. / Wouldn’t it be better / to / forget / to / care?” It would be so easy to sleep late, not take care of business and neglect the chores: “Who will notice?”

May loses track of time and realizes “Time was made / for others, / not for someone / all alone.” She even begins to wonder who she is: “So many things / I know about myself / I’ve learned from others. / Without someone else to listen, / to judge, / to tell me what to do, / and to choose who I am, do I get to decide for myself?”

In May B., Caroline Starr Rose uses free-verse poetry effectively to capture May’s earnest voice, the lines of poetry taking readers right into May’s mind and heart, the spare beauty of the writing mirroring the stark landscape engulfing her. Winter comes, and snow traps May inside the little sod tomb, until she makes a desperate decision to find her way home or die trying. In the spirit of Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, Starr has written an elegant and original survival tale.

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