Summary: Across the Desert
In Dusti Bowling’s Across the Desert, 12-year-old Jolene has a tough life. Her mom is misusing opioids and can barely care for her. She’s mocked at school for wearing too-small clothing and looking haggard. Jolene’s only bright spot is a tween pilot she watches via livestream at the library, “Addie Earhart.”
Addie and Jolene gradually form a warm friendship and encourage each other through life’s hardships. But one day during the livestream, Addie crashes her plane. No one but Jolene is watching the stream, and Addie’s mom doesn’t know she even flies planes. It’s up to Jolene to save her, but she’s a kid with no money — and Addie’s is stuck miles away in the Arizona desert. How will Jolene make it work?
This was an intense survival novel. Forget that it’s marketed “for tweens,” — I found it INTENSE. Jolene has to leave her home in the city with a stolen credit card (her mom’s), get into the suburbs, where she meets and befriends a helpful teen girl named Marty. Marty makes this story even more enjoyable with her bright personality and wiser-than-her-years outlook on life.
The desert is hot and treacherous as both girls hunt for someone they can’t even confirm is there. The authorities won’t fly out to look for Addie because Jolene can’t prove Addie flew out — she doesn’t even know Addie’s real name because both girls were trying to be safe online. I was on the edge of my seat throughout my time with the audiobook.
I liked the realistic way the author handles Jolene’s mom’s addiction, Jolene’s passion for mapping, her friendships with Addie and Marty, and the overall narrative arc. My heart went out to Jolene for all her struggles with bullying and dealing with a neglectful parent. I don’t read a ton of adventure or survival fiction, but this one was so well done.
Overall: Across the Desert
Across the Desert is a heart-pounding middle grade novel about self-worth, friendships, and the struggle of a parent with addiction. It features a strong-willed heroine willing to sacrifice her wellbeing to save a friend, even when other people don’t believe her. Fans of books like Barbara Dee’s Violets Are Blue (also about addiction) and Megan E. Freeman’s Alone (survival fiction) will enjoy this one.