Edna in the Desert
by Maddy Lederman

eLectio Publishing, 2013. ISBN 978-0-615-88473-8.
Reviewed by Judy M. Miller
Posted on 02/03/2015


Precocious 13-year-old Edna Miller has a lot to live up to. She is the daughter of a successful Hollywood film director who easily manipulates actors, studio execs, and technicians, and a 'perfect' etiquette-blogging mother, who is a sought-after public speaker for the rich and want-to-be-famous. Extremely bright, spoiled, and, I surmised, not particularly close to her parents and brother, Edna is a behavioral challenge; she has been kicked out of two schools.

Edna is given the summer—her father's idea—to stay with grandparents she barely knows, in their small cabin in Desert Palms. This is a last ditch effort by Edna's parents to turn her around; her therapist has recommended medication and a psychiatrist. Edna's parents hope that her "wiseass-itis" and "one-upmanship" will disappear once she has the time to think.

Edna is indignant after being dropped off and embraces her overly active and dramatic imagination. She takes off into the desert, swept up in imagining herself in her own movie and the reactions of others to her plight. She becomes lost and is found four hours later by 17-year-old Johnny, who is part of the Desert Palms search and rescue group, and is her infatuation.

Time in the desert in plentiful, especially when Edna finds herself disconnected from her cell phone, Internet and TV. She begins to read the books her parents left with her, about pioneering women and their trials. For the most part her days are simple, quiet, boring. She finds herself doing chores to pass the time and finding other ways to help around her grandparents' humble home to keep busy. She also begins to reflect, observing the changes in her desert environment and trying to solve the puzzles of her grandfather.

The overriding theme in Edna in the Desert is that genuine down time can provide the needed space to grow perspective, to mature, and to learn about the person you are and wish to be. Edna arrives into this space as the queen of drama queens. She leaves with appreciation, understanding, and compassion.

Although I enjoyed Edna in the Desert, I had a number of issues with the story. One was vocabulary. Author Maddy Lederman sprinkles Honors English words throughout the story, for her target audience, ages 11 to 13, such as reiterate and analogous. Two, I would have appreciated more background on the relationships—between Edna and each of her parents, Edna and her brother, Edna's parents and grandparents. Three, as a mother of four kids (boys and girls) I had a HUGE issue with the relationship between Edna and Johnny, and how far it went. To imagine a boy of 17, going into his senior year of high school, interested in a girl of 13, just out of 7th grade, well, where I live this is considered very wrong, "jailbait." I was glad the author, via Grandma Mary, put the brakes on it. This all said, I feel there is ample opportunity here for some meaty and intriguing discussions between mothers and their daughters, and teachers and their students.

Edna in the Desert is Maddy Lederman's first novel, and she's working on its sequel. Other writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Sun Runner, a magazine about California deserts. Maddy has an M.F.A. in Theater from Brooklyn College. She works in the art department for films and TV shows, recently on "The Amazing Spiderman 2," "Darren Aronofsky's Noah," and "The Dictator."

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