Cover Image: Across the Desert

Across the Desert

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Member Reviews

"'This is a hard story, Jolene. Hard for me to tell. Hard for Marty to hear, even though she knows it all. But if it can help someone, then I have to tell it, don't I? Sometimes telling your story is the best thing you can do to help someone. Even when the story's not easy. Even when it hurts to tell it."

After reading [author:Dusti Bowling|5346515]'s [book:Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus|33986447] and its sequel, I knew I was going to enjoy this new book by Bowling. She is one of those authors you can count on to write high quality middle grade literature that packs a punch for readers of all ages. Those are the types of authors I always want to read more of and ones who write characters I am glad to spend time with. I also find that authors like Bowling are able to work in heavier topics seamlessly so young readers are able to see themselves or their friends reflected back to them. 

Across the Desert was one of those middle grade novels that I have found myself thinking back to frequently and fondly. I knew the basics of the story: a young girl who has no friends in her community follows another young girl online. Jolene is an easy narrator to listen to and as an adult, my heart instantly went out to her and her unfortunate circumstances. I loved her online friendship with Addie. Addie is another young person who lives in the same region and streams her flights on her ultralight plane. Jolene is often one of the few viewers to see Addie's flights and has these fantastic conversations with Addie online. As someone who has met all of my current BFFs online, I can understand the close relationship that can come out of online friendships. 

One afternoon in the library, Jolene is watching Addie's live stream when Addie's engine stops and the video abruptly cuts out. Jolene was the only one watching Addie's flight that day so she's the only one who knows that Addie is stuck in the desert somewhere. Jolene does everything right: she contacts the appropriate authorities trying to get them to go searching for Addie. Since Addie hasn't been declared missing and Jolene is a kid, no adult believes her. Jolene knows she has to try to save Addie so she sets off on her own journey to try and find Addie. Along the way she learns a lot about what it means to be independent while also learning to rely on others for help. 

This story within itself would have been enough to keep me interested and reading. But woven into this story is Jolene's mom's addiction to opioids. Jolene doesn't know who to reach out to for help with her mother, but she knows her mom can't continue on this road alone. Stories of people struggling with opioid addiction keep popping up throughout this novel. For such an epidemic in our current society, I am glad to see middle grade literature addressing the opioid epidemic head on. Too many adults argue that today's middle grade readers are far too young to be reading about topics such as the opioid crisis. I would argue that today's middle grade readers are far too young to be experiencing this in their own homes yet there are too many children forced to watch their parents fall prey to the hold of opioids on their system. 

This book is fantastically written and solidifies author Dusti Bowling as one that I will continue to read and recommend to my middle school students. While the narrators may be a bit younger than what my 8th grade students are looking for, I also know they are in for an absolute treat of a story that brings more to the story than meets the eye. 

TW: Addiction, drug use & abuse, car accident, dehydration, death (in the past), bullying

**Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for the advance reader's copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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*received for free from netgalley for honest review* 4.5 rounded up, this was a great read! I would totally buy this for kids (or even adults!), actually one of the best books i have read so far this year as an overall book.
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Twelve year old Jolene feels invisible. She lives in Phoenix with her mother, who is struggling with addiction to prescription medication after a car accident. Jolene's only friend is a girl she follows while leave-streaming a show online, Addie Earhart. While at the library, Jolene, Addie's only viewer, witnesses Addie crash her ultralight in the desert. Knowing that no one, not even Addie's mom, knows where she is, Jolene knows she has to help her only friend. After no adults will believe her, she takes it upon herself to borrow her mom's credit card and cell phone and take off for the desert. With the help of a new friend she meets along the way, Jolene is determined to rescue Addie and keep herself alive in the process.

This was a great story depicting the hardships the children of addicts. Jolene is scared to lose her mom to drugs, but also scared to ask for help for fear of being separated. I know so many young readers that will relate.
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Across the Desert is a captivating survival story about not giving up on someone who needs you. Jolene feels helpless in her home life—ever since a serious accident, she constantly skates the boundaries of a panic attack while her mom grows more and more neglectful and dependent on painkillers. All Jolene can do is try to hold things together well enough so she can hide the fact that her world is on the brink of disaster. The last thing she wants is for social services to take her away like they did her friend. So, when Jolene witnesses another accident and no one seems to believe her, she decides that this time she will take matters into her own hands. She can’t sit still and do nothing. Jolene sets off on a trek across the desert to save her friend—but the journey is fraught with complications and near-disasters. I’ll admit that I sometimes had to let go of the fact that Jolene (and eventually her new friend Marty) make some terrible decisions. It’s easier to understand her choices as the book goes on and you start to understand truly what Jolene is facing at home and what she stands to lose. Kids probably won’t be bothered by this, though, and the overall messages of the book are very positive. Jolene eventually learns that she shouldn’t give up on people, but she can and should get help when she needs it.

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
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Okay, so guess I need to get my hands on Dusti Bowling's other books ASAP. This story proved once again why middle grade is my favorite genre, combining heart-stopping adventure with tactfully-handled real-world issues and gorgeous, voicey writing. 

I'm not crying. You're crying. 

ACROSS THE DESERT tackles two main plot points. Our endearing heroine, Jolene, must find a way to rescue her online friend, Addie, from an ultralight crash in the middle of the Arizona desert ... but she must also deal with the implications of her mother's oxycodone addiction. Both stories were deftly written and intertwined masterfully, but the author's approach to addiction was just ... gosh, I don't even have the words. It was SO well done. ACROSS THE DESERT proves beyond argument that middle grade can be fun *and* deal with tough topics, and I'm certain Jolene's story is going to mean the world to children going through similar issues. 

Perhaps the plot occasionally felt too convenient and contrived, but overall, a solid recommend.
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This one just wasn't for me. I just couldn't get over the level of unbelievability. I was on board for a few chapters, but after a while it was just so outrageous I couldn't. I also didn't like that one of the secondary characters kept using the word "cuss" in place of the f-word. Like kids reading this aren't going to know what that means? Overall just not my cup of tea.
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DNF at 16%. The "every adult won't listen to me because I'm a kid" trope is irritating, overused and boring. Stop it.
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Another fabulous book from Dusti Bowling!  I was on the edge of my seat and could not put this book down - I had to know what happened to Jolene and to Addie! Jolene's conviction and absolute determination, despite all odds, will appeal to young readers, while the message that sometimes we need help will ring out loud and clear. Dusti Bowling is a pro at writing parents that are realistic and flawed, but also loving and supportive. I loved Marty's character so much, and now I want a book about her! The use of texting/online chatting is highly relevant for today's kids, and is a brilliant way to add backstory without slowing down the action. 
The cover is eye-catching and I predict that this book will not sit on shelves much, especially if kids can see the cover!
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This is a Middle Grade that takes you on Action Packed Adventure. I really loved every minute I spend reading this book. I love all the characters in this book, and I really love Jolene. As an Adult reading this book it shown me we need to listen to children more because I can see what happen in this book really happen. It is sad no Adult in this book listen to Jolene because she is a Kid. I think this book also  shows drug use can start by getting hurt and taking pain meds. This book covers some important topics, but does it so well. Love this book so much. I was kindly provided an e-copy of this book by the publisher (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) or author (Dusti Bowling) via NetGalley, so I can give an honest review about how I feel about this book. I want to send a big Thank you to them for that.
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Across the Deseret is written by an author we came to adore with Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and the stories of Aven Green. We've posted about Dusti Bowling before, as her writing is funny and approachable for older middle grade readers. While Across the Desert isn't as raucously funny as her writing about Aven Green, this story of Jolene's desert adventure is fast-paced, exciting, and just as engaging. Jolene is a young girl in AZ facing a world of loneliness and neglect, as her mother struggles with a prescription drug addiction. Things get exciting as she watches the livestream of young aviator and sees as she goes crashing into the Arizona desert. On her own, she stops at nothing to try to ensure her "friend" is safe. Her adventure with a hand-drawn map and her mother's cell phone is one an of my middle-grade readers would love, with some valuable life lessons thrown in.

Dusti Bowling shares that this story is a bit of an #ownvoices piece, shared to show the youth out there struggling with family members who have addictions, that they are seen. This book certainly shows that, throughout the plotline, and offers a glimmer of hope and understanding. Dusti writes very well about what she knows - life in the desert and life with an addict. Very well-done approach to a hard topic, in a manner appropriate for elementary-aged children.

Thank you to Dusti Bowling and NetGalley for sharing a DRC in exchange for an honest review.
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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an eARC of this novel. The free copy did not influence my review. 

This was a good adventure story with themes of addiction and friendship woven in too! Jolene spends all day at the library because she doesn't like her own life. Her mother is an opioid addict and Jolene only thinks that she has one friend. Every day, another twelve year old girl livestreams her adventures in the desert and Jolene watches. She messages "Addie Earhart" and the two of them form a relationship online. One day, Addie crashes. No one knows where she is except for Jo, and no one will believe her when she tries to call for help. She decides to embark on a dangerous journey across multiple states to save her friend from death. 

This was a quick read that was interesting and had me rooting for Jolene every step of the way! I enjoyed it, but there were a few things that I wish could have been in the book. The first would have been a note at the back about online safety and not messaging people that you didn't know. Mature readers would already know this, but I do think that younger kids should be warned. I also wish that the book touched more on the addiction side of the story, but kids looking for an adventure story to read would not care about this. Overall, a great adventure story that a young reader would enjoy. 

Ages 10+
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ARC Copy...as expected very good job on imagery of the desert and realistic-grounded writing on the issues of addiction from a child's POV. I did like the narrative does not cover up the fact what the two girls are going through and doing through is too much for minors to endure. Jolene and Addie are very determined in their endeavors, which I liked. I did like the character of Marty. Yes at the start she looks one of the people you should avoid at a greyhound stop but she is actually very nice and understand of Jolene's predicament both on the journey and at home.
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Across the Desert
by Dusti Bowling
Pub Date 12 Oct 2021 
 Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
 Children's Fiction


I am reviewing a copy of Across the Desert through Little Brown for Young Readers and NetGalley:



Jolene who is twelve spends every day she can at the library watching her favorite livestream: The Desert Aviator, where twelve-year-old “Addie Earhart”shares her adventures flying an ultralight plane over the desert.   Jolene can dream about what it’s like to fly with her, far away from her troubled home, where she must watch her Mother struggle with her addiction to narcotics.   And Addie is dealing with her own grief, over the loss of her Father who she misses terribly finds solace in her online conversations with Jolene, her biggest and only fan.






One day though it all goes wrong, Addie's engine abruptly stops, and Jolene watches in helpless horror as the ultralight plummets to the ground and the video goes dark.   Jolene knows that Addie won’t last long in the extreme summer heat, in the middle of a desert .  Without anyone to turn to for help and armed with only a hand-drawn map and a stolen cell phone, it's up to Jolene to find a way to save the Desert Aviator.



For young readers who enjoy adventure as well as stories of hope and resilience , as well as the strength within each of us, then Across the Desert is just the book.



I give Across the Desert five out of five stars!



Happy Reading!
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It is easy to feel invisible when life is challenging. Twelve-year-old Jolene lives in Phoenix with her mother who is struggling with the after effects of a car accident that took place three years previously. Jolene finds solace in studying the daring feats of female adventurers who challenged the status quo, and she is especially drawn to another twelve-year-old named Addie who live-streams her journeys through the Arizona desert on her ultralight. When one video ends in catastrophe and Jolene is the only witness, she tests the limits of her own strength and tenacity to search the desert for the truest friend she has never met.

Gripping and fast-paced, this book pulls readers in from the first page through the use of memorable analogies and compelling writing. The novel alternates between earlier internet interactions between Jolene and Addie and a more traditional narrative in the present day. This design shows readers the depth of Addie and Jolene’s friendship, despite having never met, while laying out the epic quest Jolene sets herself upon. Though Jolene has often felt alone since oxycodone began dictating her mother’s behavior, a serendipitous series of events leads her to exactly what she needs to find.

Throughout the narrative, a plethora of famous, intrepid women are mentioned for their great feats of bravery: scaling mountains, traveling great distances, and otherwise breaking the glass ceiling fencing them in. Likewise, this story itself is composed primarily of strong female characters whose resourcefulness leads them to their own successes. It takes bravery to face one’s fears—whether the enemies are external or internal—and having a support system is critical to taking those important first steps. Jolene’s path is not without challenges, but she digs deep to discover the limits of her own potential.

Emotional and inspiring, this book examines the hard truths of life for a child of an opioid addict alongside the desperate need for that child to prove their worth. As the child of an addict herself, the author pulls from her own experiences to create a narrative that will resonate with readers no matter their backgrounds. With strong, pioneering women as their guides, Jolene, Addie, and Marty bravely venture into the unknown to do the seemingly impossible. Everyone has worth; sometimes it just takes a special set of circumstances to recognize that fact. This is a profound and important addition to libraries for middle grade readers.
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This book was part page-turning rescue adventure, part gut-punch story about realities no kid should have to face. Extra kudos to the author for making my heart pound as I sat at the edge of my seat, terrified for Jolene, the main character, not knowing what was going to happen. I don't want to give anything away about the plot because part of what I loved so much about this book was that I got about two-thirds of the way through and I had absolutely no idea how it was going to end. That kind of unpredictability in a kids' book is rare and kept me turning pages well past my bedtime.

A heartbreaking but satisfying read by this new-to-me author. Extra points for all the references to female trailblazers throughout the book and for its unwavering honesty.

Also, the author's note at the end is a must-read. Sending hugs out to her and any kid who has ever had to deal with a family member with an addiction.

Highly recommended.
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Prepare yourself. Once you open this book, you aren’t going to want to stop! What an incredible story that so many kiddos are going to relate to. I can’t wait to hand this one to my students!
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@DustiBowling is one of my favorite middle grade authors, so I jumped on the chance to download an e-galley for her newest novel, Across the Desert.

Here’s what I loved:  
It’s a fast-paced adventure story
It deals with addiction
Jolene is strong and determined

The set-up: Jolene is a lonely middle schooler living in poverty after a devastating car accident that left her mom addicted to painkillers. Teased at school, Jolene retreats to the public library where she chats with an online friend, a young aviator named Addie Earheart who livestreams her solo flights. One day, Jolene watches in horror as Addie’s plane crashes in the desert, miles from civilization. Jolene reports the crash to everyone she can think of, and when no one takes her seriously, she sets off on an epic quest to save her friend’s life.

Across the Desert will require you to suspend some disbelief, but it is a fast-moving adventure story that you won’t want to put down. The desert setting is perfect and Jolene is a character you’ll want to hug.  I can’t wait to share this with my students; hand to fans of Alone, Canyon’s Edge or Tornado Brain.
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Although a bit slow here and there this book was overall very engaging. Jolene was a moving narrator and Bowling did a wonderful job of taking the reader into her head and heart. I think this will be fine for upper elementary, and could be a powerful book for kids dealing with a family member addicted to opioids.
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I'll be honest that I requested to read this book solely because I am a huge fan of Dusti Bowling's books and I didn't really read the synopsis shared on Netgalley. So I was a bit surprised that this was an action-packed adventure story, but it was a pleasant surprise. It made my heart pound and I just couldn't put it down. I was rooting for Jolene to find her friend as well as to heal her heart at home. I also appreciated the way Bowling deftly navigated the topic of a parent's addiction without judgement or a sugar-coating. My students will really enjoy this book!
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