Robert has dreams far bigger than the sleepy town of Horshoe , Saskatchewan, and he finds adventure in his books. But Robert’s life becomes the adventure he longs for when his little brother mysteriously disappears. The story gets even creepier when a new stranger comes to town, and his parents have all but forgotten his brother. Arthur Slade has crafted a very compelling, suspenseful story for those young adults who love a good mystery.
“A stranger comes to the small town of Horseshoe, promising rain. A child vanishes. And then another and another. But the townspeople are dazzled by magic mirrors and dreams of a green future. The only one who sees through the stranger’s mesmerism is Robert, a boy on the cusp of manhood. A boy who must somehow confront the stranger.” – Arthur Slate
- Dust by Arthur Slade
- Publisher: HarperCollins Canada, 2001
- Format & Genre: YA Novel, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery
- Age Range: 12 years and up
- Themes: Suspense, Family, Fear
- Source: Purchased Copy
Saskatchewan author Arthur Slade has created a gem that has blended the worlds of historical fiction and fantasy. Although the story takes place in Depression-era Saskatchewan, the true story revolves around Robert and the disappearance of his young brother. The dust-bowl setting does drive the plot, but the fantasy elements of the novel are what really make it a joy to read.
The main character of the novel is Robert, an imaginative 11 year old with a passion for reading. After the disappearance of his brother, Robert feels an immense amount of guilt and makes it his goal to find his brother. Robert’s search becomes compounded when an naturally pale stranger comes to town, promising the towns people he can help them end the drought that has plagues them by building a “rain machine”. This stranger has a hypnotic affect on the town, and Robert seems to be the only not taken over by this magic and is the only hope his brother has of ever being found, before it’s too late.
This novel is a high interest story that is excellent motivation for your tweens/teens to read. The story is very suspenseful, creepy, and an interesting piece of Canadian work. The story is a combination of prairie coming of age story (think W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind) and horror story. The first chapter of the book is masterfully written and it absolutely draws you in. I dare you to read the first chapter and not binge-read the first half of the book.
While the reading level of Dust is just shy of grade 6 (5.6 according to Scholastic), the content of the novel makes it better suited to those is grade 7 and up. Parts of the novel are unsettling, like chickens who are so frightened they lay blood filled eggs, and the souls of children being trapped into jars. Although it could be read by a 5th grader, I would advise you to proceed with caution unless you are sure your 10 year old won’t be too scared when the spooky stuff (and it is creepy) does happen. As an adult, I am not ashamed to say the first chapter creeped me out so bad I had to read the last chapter of the book to see if Robert ends up finding his brother (SPOILER: the story has a somewhat happy ending).
Overall, this novel is well written and is a great read for those young adults in your life that are interested in the supernatural, mysteries, and anything that will creep them out. Don’t be surprised if your tween starts sleeping with the light on when they start reading this book.