One of my young relatives was assigned this book for summer reading.
It tells the maudlin story of a young girl in the 1930's. Not our happiest decade by a long shot, but this kid is doubly, no triply, unfortunate: her mom died in childbirth, her dad is a drunk, and she accidentally pour kerosene on her hands, losing parts of her fingers--don't you hate when that happens? Of course, this is particularly sad for her, as she is a talented pianist. And to make matters worse, the book is written in blank verse, or free verse. I can't tell the difference. Here's a clue--it doesn't rhyme.
Young adult literature used to be clean and cheerful. The kids went to the malt shop and attended sock hops at school. They worried about being popular. The trend in recent years is all the other way. No subject is too gloomy to serve as the subject of a young adult book: incest, rape, child abuse, gangs, poverty, criminality--all are the topics of young adult books these days.
I can't understand why kids have to read this drivel. If you want to teach them about the seamy side of life, why not have them read "Crime and Punishment."? There's all the poverty and crime you could wish for, and in addition it's a masterpiece. Why is the Dust Bowl a fitting setting for teenagers rather than Raskolnikov's garret?