Across the Desert

Little, Brown. Oct. 2021. 320p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316494748.
Gr 3-7–Twelve-year-old Jolene is used to taking care of herself. Ever since a car accident severely injured her mother and caused her slide into opioid addiction, Jolene is alternately upset with and fiercely protective of her, despite their descent into poverty and occasional homelessness. She takes refuge from the Phoenix heat in the library each day, where she reserves travel books, draws maps, researches remarkable female pioneers, and follows livestreamer Addie Earhart’s aerial adventures. Addie is grieving the loss of her father and flying their ultralight plane alone in the desert without her mother’s knowledge, and the lonely pair strike up a connection. When Addie crash lands and the impact cuts off the feed, Jolene can’t get anyone to go search for her. She has a pretty good idea of where Addie might be, and, realizing she’s the only one who knows about the accident, scrounges meager supplies and sets out by bus to find her. Luckily for Jolene, she meets 17-year-old Marty on her journey, and the two end up searching for Addie together. Jolene’s voice is instantly compelling, making suspending disbelief at the unique and dangerous scenario quite easy. The tension ratchets up insidiously as the desert heat rises and time seems to keep running out. Alongside the budding friendships, the depiction of parental addiction is utterly realistic and heartbreaking.
VERDICT The book’s dedication, “For you, the child of an addict, I see you,” says it all. A first purchase.

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