If It Rains
Two sisters narrate this novel in alternate chapters, set in the 1930s Dust Bowl. Kathryn, 14, is hampered by a club foot. Sister Melissa is newly married to one of the richest men in town, raising her several steps up the social ladder. Kathryn’s father wants to leave Oklahoma and go to relatives in Indianapolis, and during the trip, Kathryn gets lost in a “duster.” Melissa tries to fit into the Ladies’ Auxiliary circle at church but is always conscious of her farming background. She tries to reach out to a poor woman who is very prickly about charity; it doesn’t go well.
Meanwhile, Kathryn falls in with a man hired by town officials to make rain, but after his scheme fails, he makes sexual advances to her. She escapes with the help of a vagrant, Mr. Hickory, who agrees to escort her to Kansas City. Melissa continues to aid the poor woman, but her husband objects to her deceitfulness, especially after she trades his prized cufflinks for medical help for the woman’s child. His punishments include physical abuse. And since Kathryn has no money for a ticket, the only way she can get to her father in Indianapolis is to have Mr. Hickory show her how to hop a freight train.
Kathryn is another prickly character, gruff and blunt almost to the point of unlikability, but Wright’s skill in characterization makes the reader root for her anyway. Melissa’s struggles climbing the social ladder in a small town are vivid. The story contains a couple of smaller themes about the family’s fondness for the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and also of the characters’ relationships with God. Wright brings people’s experiences in the Dust Bowl to life in the sisters’ compelling stories; I heartily recommend this novel.