Across the Desert: Dusti Bowling Cover Reveal and Q&A
Apparently I just can’t get enough of that Dusti Bowling author-type-person. And, more to the point, apparently SHE can’t get enough of writing novels. In deserts. It’s a thing.
Yes, turns out that 2021 is granting us a special boon. Special boon = Another Dusti Bowling middle grade novel . It’s called Across the Desert and you’ve just gotta hear this plot encapsulation:
12-year-old Jolene spends every day she can at the library watching her favorite online streaming show: The Desert Aviator. On the show, twelve-year-old “Addie Earhart” livestreams her adventures flying in an ultralight plane over the desert. The two girls soon become friends through their conversations. While watching this daring girl fly through the sky, she can dream of what it would be like to fly with her, far away from her own troubled home life where her mother struggles with a narcotic addiction. And Addie, who is grieving the loss of her father, finds solace in talking to Jolene.
Then, one day, it all goes wrong: Addie’s engine abruptly stops, and all Jolene can do is watch in horror as the ultralight plummets to the ground and the video goes dark. And there’s no one to believe Jolene about the girl in the desert–the police won’t believe her without proof, and she can’t risk anyone finding out about her mother. With the hottest day of the summer looming, Jolene knows that Addie won’t survive long in the desert. 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.
Naturally, I had some questions.
Betsy Bird: Good day to you, Dusti! Thank you so much for joining me here. Let’s dive straight in, shall we? In your book, young Jolene is a fan of an ultralight flier. So honestly, I just gotta ask, in the course of your research did you do any ultralight flying yourself?
Dusti Bowling: First of all, thank you so much for doing another cover reveal for me! I’m so excited to share this gorgeous cover by artist Yaoyao Ma Van As and designer Karina Granda. Now for your question: No, I did not. I’m terrified of heights and don’t think I could handle flying in an ultralight. I once paraglided off a mountain in Vancouver, thinking that would “cure” me of my acrophobia, but I think it actually made it worse. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life (documented on video for proof!). I justified not flying in an ultralight as part of my research because the story is told from Jolene’s point of view, and she never flies in one herself. She only observes, so I figured I’m experiencing what Jolene experiences by only observing other ultralight fliers. Anyway, that’s what I told myself.
BB: Well, failing that, are there really people that specialize in flying over the desert? What’s the appeal?
DB: Yes, many people fly all kinds of contraptions over the desert. We know people who fly ultralights and paraglide, and we regularly see a person flying a powered parachute near our house. As with Addie in the story, I think some people are just driven to fly, and flying over the desert must be a particularly exhilarating experience because of our beautiful and unique landscapes. I imagine the thrill of it all is likely what keeps them returning to the sky.
BB: Forgive me if I speak untruths, but it seems to me that you are one of the rare authors that really and truly loves the desert. I’m talking LOVES the desert. Why do you stories keep returning to this arid land?
DB: I may be a rare author who truly loves and knows the Sonoran Desert, as it is really difficult to find children’s books that authentically represent Arizona, but most people I know who grew up here love it. The desert (and I’m speaking of the Sonoran Desert specifically) is an incredibly special place. It’s far from a barren wasteland, which is what some people may picture when they think of the “desert.” The plant and animal life are unique. The landscapes are incredibly diverse. I love sharing pictures online and during school visits of my family’s and my adventures out in the desert—from isolated canyons hardly anyone knows about to abandoned century-old homes to Native American ruins not marked on any maps to mountain trails that go from blistering desert to cool pines in only a few steep miles, there’s always something new to discover. That thrill of discovery plays a big part in Across the Desert.
BB: This book appears to have some fairly serious themes that, sadly, some of your young readers may be intimately familiar with. To the best of my knowledge you’ve never written about drug addiction before. Why did you think to introduce it with Jolene’s mom?
DB: It’s taken me several books to finally build up the courage to write about a parent struggling with addiction. That’s because I knew it would be painful to revisit my own childhood, growing up with alcoholic and opioid-addicted parents. I had to dig deep and pull from my own struggles, experiences, and feelings, asking myself what would’ve helped me when I was a child. What would have made me feel seen and comforted? I hope I’ve written a story that makes these children feel less alone and that it also gives them some hope. That’s really what kept me motivated to finish this story during a very difficult year.
BB: Just out of curiosity, how long can a human being survive without water?
DB: In the Sonoran Desert, in the middle of summer, people can die within a few hours. We unfortunately see news stories every year of tourists who visit during the summer and think they can go hiking in July or August. People have died on short hikes on our most popular hiking trails within the city. Young healthy visitors not familiar with the area are overly confident and scoff at the warnings, not able to fathom the intensity of heat and the amount of water needed to survive. But we locals know the danger.
BB: And finally, what are you working on next?
DB: I’m currently busy at work on my Aven Green chapter book series, which has two books releasing this year and two more in 2022. I’m really excited for everyone to meet Aven when she was eight! I also have some other potential projects I’m not yet ready to discuss but will be excited to share in the future!
Folks, I don’t want to have to wait a moment longer than I have to to show you today’s cover reveal. Why don’t we just take it away then . . . .
Gorgeous. Many thanks to Dusti for answering my questions and to Victoria Stapleton and the folks at Little, Brown for this reveal.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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