Maddy Lederman

Edna in the Desert

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Edna in the Desert Summary

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Edna in the Desert is a 2013 historical novel for young adults by Maddy Lederman. A bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, it follows Edna who spends the summer of her thirteenth year in the Californian desert with her grandparents. Edna undergoes a painful but important transformation from the arrogant, pampered child of a wealthy family to learning the virtues of kindness and selflessness. The novel is intertextual, describing Edna’s development as an individual as proceeding from her newfound desire to read and internalize a number of literary works written by women.

Edna’s parents send her off to her grandparents’ house in a remote region of California called Dusty Palms. Though her parents are at least partially culpable for Edna’s attitude and behavior, they deny any role, handing her off in the hope that the change of environment will correct her. Arriving at her grandparents’ in a sullen mood, Edna becomes even more upset to see that the house lacks most ways of connecting to the outside world: there is no Internet, television, or even a cell connection. Her only refuge is a stack of books, all written by or about ambitious women who forged new paths in history, that her parents sent along with her.

Edna is initially uncertain of how to interact with her grandparents, people with whom she has rarely had contact in the past. Her grandfather keeps to himself, preferring to sit alone on the porch, watching the horizon. Her grandmother, in contrast, is clearly the head of the household: she is a diligent worker who, in size alone, commands a dominant presence. In a pointless tirade, Edna runs away into the desert, believing that she would prefer to die than remain with them all summer. Once the sheer heat of the desert and her thirst overcome her, she regrets her decision. She passes out from exhaustion and dehydration. When she wakes, she sees a guy driving toward her on a motorbike. A handsome young man, he tells her his name is Johnny, and he is part of a search party that set out to find her. Using a handheld radio, he informs the search team that Edna has been found, and brings her home. Edna immediately develops a crush on him.

Back at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, Wegman, the sheriff, admonishes Edna for wandering into the desert. He explains its various dangers to deter her from trying to run away again. Edna is appalled when the local newspaper prints a headline about the incident. She reasons that a town that finds her story significant must have nothing going on. Meanwhile, she decides to go after Johnny, even though he is four years older than her. She finds out that his family owns a grocery store, the only one in town; moreover, Johnny is its deliveryman, and makes weekly trips to Grandma and Grandpa.

Edna awaits Johnny, passing the time by reading the books her parents left. Grandma also recruits her to do chores around the house and its surrounding land. Enamored by the stories in the books, Edna gains a newfound respect for the brave women who helped found the American West, sacrificing security and stability. Whenever Johnny comes to the house, Edna flirts with him. She convinces him to take her to a nearby oasis, where they kiss. Johnny pulls away and declares that he is too old to have a relationship with Edna.

Edna rejects the idea that she and Johnny should just be friends, and goes on to plan a birthday party for Grandpa to force Johnny’s attendance. Grandpa is enthusiastic about it and helps prepare. At the party, many of the men in attendance are veterans of the Vietnam War, just like Grandpa; one reveals that Grandpa saved his life. Having never seen him outside of a sedentary state, Edna is shocked when Grandpa stands up and dances. Grandpa and the guests thank Edna profusely for setting up the party. She feels terrible for harboring her ulterior motive.

Edna eventually gives up on Johnny, realizing that the plan was never very feasible. This frees up time to get to know her grandparents. She comes to admire them for their closeness and trust for each other. One morning, the three of them go into town for church. Afterward, they go to a restaurant, where Grandpa orders coffee for them. The novel ends at the close of summer when Edna’s parents come to get her. She waits on the porch with her grandparents, regretting that she had not spent quality time with them from the beginning, but looking forward to returning to Dusty Palms.