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The Great Desert Race: 06/09/13

cover art

The Great Desert Race by Betty Baker is was a gift for my seventh birthday. I wasn't much of a reader back then and after trying the first chapter, I set the book aside. It's taken me nearly thirty-three years to finally finish it!

A pair of teenage girls, one who works as an automobile mechanic, decide to enter a race that runs from their town near Los Angeles, California, to a small town in northern Arizona. The adults in their families don't want them go because it would be unladylike, possibly dangerous, and most certainly scandalous.

To make things more "interesting" the young women will be driving an alternative fuel car — one that runs on steam. The car in question, the author explains in her afterword, is fictional, but was based on careful research of actual steam powered cars.

There are two big hurdles to this slim volume and they come down to pacing. Baker tries to set up a strong feminist message, explain about how early car races worked, and outline how steam automobile engines worked, that her pre-race chapters are dense, preachy and sometimes unbearable to read. So much effort is put into setting up the story that there's no time to build the plucky, believable characters that will be needed to drive the plot!

Thankfully, once the girls are finally in the car and the race has started, it's a quick and fun read. I just wish the opening chapters reflected the rest of the book better.

Three stars

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