Elsa believes what her family tells her–that she is weak because she suffered scarlet fever as a child. Elsa, however, soon proves her strength by helping her family survive during the worst and bleakest time in American history, the dust bowl years.
Even though Elsa loses everything she owns twice and her husband, Rafe, leaves her, the story never becomes depressing or maudlin. She fiercely loves her children, even if the oldest one, Loreda, blames her for her father’s desertion.
Elsa rallies her children and takes them to California. Mostly she wants a place where her son can heal from dust pneumonia but she is also hoping for a better life. The okies as they were called, even if they were not from Oklahoma, face resentment from Californians.
Wherever they go they hear the same refrain, “This…is for Californians. You know, the folks that pay taxes. For citizens, not vagrants who want to be taken care of.”
Even when they find jobs picking cotton, they continue to find that wealthier people exploit them. Similar to the sharecroppers in post Civil War South, the migrants find exhausting work that does not even pay enough to clear their debt to the farm owners.
Elsa and Loreda continue to have their differences, especially when Loreda becomes involved in the worker’s rights movement. Yet, even if the Martinellis face great hardships they also experience great kindness from the librarian, Jack, and the Deweys.
Though Elsa was always made to feel invisible, she finds her voice and her power, earning her daughter’s pride.
This is a well-researched and thought provoking novel that explores issues that are more important than ever.
For non-fiction titles on the Great Depression:
Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl.
Morgan, Dan. Rising in The West: The True Story of an Okie Family.