Book: “Dustborn” by Erin Bowman
Publication Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, April 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: Delta of Dead River has always been told to hide her back, where a map is branded on her skin to a rumored paradise called the Verdant. In a wasteland plagued by dust squalls, geomagnetic storms, and solar flares, many would kill for it—even if no one can read it. So when raiders sent by a man known as the General attack her village, Delta suspects he is searching for her.
Delta sets out to rescue her family but quickly learns that in the Wastes no one can be trusted—perhaps not even her childhood friend, Asher, who has been missing for nearly a decade. If Delta can trust Asher, she just might decode the map and trade evidence of the Verdant to the General for her family. What Delta doesn’t count on is what waits at the Verdant: a long-forgotten secret that will shake the foundation of her entire world.
Review: This book was marketed as appealing to fans of “Mad Max.” That was probably enough for me right there. The cover also worked perfectly for this description, luring me in even further. It is super unique, kind of creepy, and sets a perfect tone for the type of brutal, wasteland existence the book’s description references. I hadn’t read anything else by this author, which is also exciting. And it all worked out perfectly for me here, as I ended enjoying the heck out of this book.
Delta has always been distrustful. On her back she carries a deadly secret, one that she’s been warned to always hide. But luckily for her, this distrust of strangers is not a great weight to carry as there are so few strangers in the first place. Her pack is barely surviving on the barren wastelands, anxiously watching their only water supply slow shrink back. When Delta returns from a brief mission away to find her home destroyed and her pack abducted by a powerful man calling himself the “General,” she knows she was and the secret she carries were the likely target. Now she must venture out into the wasteland to decrypt this ancient secret before it’s too late for those she loves.
Like I said, I really enjoyed this story. For one thing, the world-building is very strong. I was immediately able to picture the wasteland that Delta lives in and the powerful storms that plague it instantly felt like a viable and fearful threat. The story touches on many of the small elements of life that would be challenging living under these circumstances that the reader might not immediately think of. It made the entire thing feel very lived in and tangible. The ever-present dust, the constant underlying fear of running out of water, the emptiness stretching out in every direction. Too afraid to move, but unable to stay where you are. Delta’s descriptions of this all are matter-of-fact and blunt, occurring organically as the story rolls out.
Delta herself was very sympathetic, partly for just how hardened and rough she was with those around her. She’s definitely a product of the life she’s been raised into, one full of difficulty but with the added layer of fear surrounding the secret map on her back. Her story is one of learning to trust, sometimes against reason. It’s also one of faith, how one can lose it and how sometimes hope and faith are needed even in the face of terrible odds. I really liked Delta’s ponderings on truth and faith, and her attempts to strike the appropriate balance between the two.
I also really enjoyed the side characters. Asher was a fairly predictable love interest, without a lot that made him stand out from the pack. But there were a bunch of surprise side characters that the general description doesn’t even mention who play, arguably, even a bigger role than Asher does in Delta’s journey, both her physical trek across the waste and her personal journey of self-discovery. I don’t want to spoil any of the elements of the book, since these characters continue to pop up throughout the book, even fairly late into the story and each surprise is as good as the last.
Speaking of surprises, while I can definitely see the comparisons to “Mad Max” and I think that is an apt sum-up of the story, this is book is definitely its own thing. There was a really big surprise towards the end that I didn’t see coming at all. I always love when I come across books that can truly shock me with a twist like this. You don’t even realize how many elements have been laid down pointing towards this reveal until it suddenly comes.
Overall, I had a blast reading this book. It was action-packed, fresh, and had a tough-as-grits heroine to lead us through the story. It strikes the perfect balance between post-apocalyptic and country western, varying between its themes of hope in the face of terrible odds and the go-get ’em attitude of our leading lady. Fans of “Mad Max” and post-apocalyptic stories are sure to enjoy this one!
Rating 9: Dive into the dusty landscape and make sure to have a glass of water on hand. Not only will it help with the prevalent worry over water throughout the book, but you may not be able to put down this page-turner for quite a while!
“Dustborn” is on these Goodreads lists: [ATY 2021] – Related to Past, Present, Future – FUTURE and Best Traveling Vicariously.
Find “Dustborn” at your library using WorldCat!