Peculiar Savage Beauty is the story of a headstrong and fiercely independent young woman who charges into the heart of the wind- and drought-ravaged Great Plains in the 1930s, intent on battling the dust and healing the land. As a geologist working for the U.S. government, Rosa Jean “RJ” Evans must find her place in a small farming town that welcomes neither a woman in authority nor changes to their way of life.
Inspired by actual historical events during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl environmental disaster, Peculiar Savage Beauty is a parable about man’s quest to dominate the land and nature’s refusal to be conquered, about unlikely alliances and unexpected love.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 8.50 out of 10
Plot: McCann's plotting is as determined and adventurous as the bright personality of RJ, the protagonist. Readers are taken on a whirlwind journey as RJ navigates the dust-covered plains and tries to make a name for herself. It's a tightly plotted and well-executed story.
Prose/Style: McCann's prose is serviceable throughout, but it is RJ's unique voice that really stands out. She's a bold and confident protagonist with a strong and clearly developed voice to match..
Originality: The refreshing characterization found in RJ elevates the story from standard historical fiction fare. The story feels unique and new, which makes for an exciting read.
Character/Execution: RJ shines as a protagonist. Her refusal to settle for less than what she wants as she sets out for Kansas alone makes her easy to root for. She's intelligent and compelling, voracious in her pursuits as a scientist, and truly serves as the heart of the story.
Date Submitted: July 15, 2020
The heart of McCann’s gripping, atmospheric novel, set in 1934 during the Dust Bowl, is an intrepid government geologist, Rosa Jean “RJ” Evans, who returns to her drought-stricken hometown to help farmers stop soil erosion and restore the land. The environmental devastation and human suffering are shocking to RJ, yet many of the residents of Vanham, Kans., do not welcome the interference of a government scientist, or a woman at that. RJ sets up soil experiments, gradually persuading some farmers to adopt her methods, while easing into friendships with brilliant, misunderstood Woody, who becomes her assistant, and Ethel, the owner of the local diner. RJ also falls in love with Harvey Clay, who wants to marry RJ and move to Wichita for a new life, yet he forces her to choose between marriage and her career. The dust storms depicted are graphic and terrible, none more so than the “black blizzard,” based on 1935’s Black Sunday. McCann is especially good at using the ever-present dust—gritty, dirty, seeping into homes, and infecting characters with “dust pneumonia”—to depict its devastation on humans, livestock, crops, and homes. McCann’s Dust Bowl saga meshes a seminal event in American history with a suspenseful plot and insightfully etched characters. (BookLife)
In 1934, at the height of the Dust Bowl, the Interior Department hires geologist RJ Evans to open a soil lab in her drought-stricken Kansas home town. She knows locals won’t welcome a stubborn woman with a “fancy degree,” but the level of hostility is unexpected. How can she convince the disheartened to believe in a future? RJ translates six years of study into practical skills for her skeptical audience. She proves her mettle in every sandstorm. She loves her work. She falls in love with a farmer who calls her Rosa Jean, but he wants her to leave Kansas and her job. RJ’s life changes while she reexamines her personal goals, prompting her to make some surprising decisions. Readers may question RJ’s choices and wonder about her past, but her dilemma is touchingly familiar. By placing a recognizable protagonist in an almost unimaginable setting—a land under attack and a people uprooted—McCann (All Different Kinds of Free, 2011) has crafted an unforgettable novel. — Jeanne Greene
10/10/2018Peculiar Savage Beauty is 2018 Arizona Book of the Year
Jessica McCann's second historical novel, Peculiar Savage Beauty, was named "2018 Arizona Book of the Year" in the Arizona Authors Association annual literary contest. The novel also placed first in the published fiction category.
07/06/2020Peculiar Savage Beauty is shortlisted for international book award
Peculiar Savage Beauty, a historical novel by Jessica McCann, was named to the fiction shortlist for the Rubery Book Award, an international book prize for indie publishers and authors. Submissions for the next book award will open in August 2020.
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