Book Review: PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY by Jessica McCann


In Jessica McCann’s PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY you get a front-row view of the horrors of the American Dust Bowl. Your skin will sting with torrents of dust, your eyes will burn from the grit, your heart will race. Yes, you will feel for the jackrabbits escaping the biting dirt, and the birds falling from the sky. And, you will fall in love with RJ, Woody, Ethel and Stormy.

You will very likely tear up, as well.

The author’s portrayal of autistic character, Woody, is probably the best I’ve ever read: subtle, realistic, believable, and yes – endearing. You will cheer for this character, who, like RJ, is up against incredible odds in this small Kansas town during this difficult period of U.S. history in 1930s.

McCann exhibits mastery of the gentle immersion of historical facts into the narrative without it feeling like a history lesson. The reader is introduced to the actual American historical figure, Aldo Leopold, an American ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist, who serves as RJ’s professor. The author weaves some of his incredible sentiments, scientific beliefs, and real-life commentary about the earth into this book. So many of his comments as a character in the book (drawn, I believe, from history) are highlight-worthy, if not frighteningly timely given our own ecological/global warming trends.

And I’d be remiss if not to share one of his quotes from the book:

“Civilization is not a state of domination over a stable and constant earth, he had asserted in his unassuming, yet powerful, way. ‘It is a state of mutual and interdependent cooperation between human animals, other animals, plants and soils, which may be disrupted at any time by the failure of any of them,’ RJ quoted him.”

Written with precision and lovely language, PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY is about family, struggle, forgiveness, misogyny, nature, community – and, most of all, the power of love.

I had the distinct privilege of reading this novel, the author’s sophomore book, in its early stages and again, recently.  As with her award-winning ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF FREE, Jessica McCann pits vivid characters with high emotional stakes against seemingly insurmountable odds in historical settings.

If you love strong female protagonists who buck the system, love the earth itself, and love learning about the mistakes of man in his environment (and if you love dogs!), PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY is for you. Looking forward to this author’s next novel!


(A version of this review was published by <a href="">Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on November 4, 2017</a>.  It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)


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BELOW THE SALT NEWS is hosting a book give-away of one (1) signed hardcopy of Peculiar Savage Beauty by Jessica McCann.   To enter this give-away please leave a brief comment on or reply on Twitter or Facebook saying what interests you about #PeculiarSavageBeauty.  Even a one word comment will do – Dust Bowl, 1930’s, author, environment, autism, Great Depression, ect.  The giveaway will end on April 29th at 8:00am.  The winner will be announced on April 30th and contacted by email.  The book is supplied by the author.  

PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY by Jessica McCann is available for purchase at Indiebound Amazon Barnes & Noble

Book synopsis:

PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY is the story of a headstrong and fiercely independent young woman who charges into the heart of the wind- and drought-ravaged Great Plains in the 1930s, intent on battling the dust and healing the land. As a geologist working for the U.S. government, Rosa Jean “RJ” Evans must find her place in a small farming town that welcomes neither a woman in authority nor changes to their way of life. Inspired by actual historical events during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl environmental disaster, PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY is a parable about man’s quest to dominate the land and nature’s refusal to be conquered, about unlikely alliances and unexpected love. The novel is available in hardback and e-book wherever books are sold.

Author bio:

Jessica McCann worked for more than 25 years as a professional freelance journalist and corporate writer. Her articles have appeared in Business Week, The Writer, Raising Arizona Kids, Phoenix and dozens of other magazines. McCann’s debut novel, ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF FREE, won the Freedom in Fiction Prize and was published by Bell Bridge Books. Her second novel, PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY, released on April 17, 2018 and was published by Perspective Books. She lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona.

Connect with Jessica McCann online through Facebook, Twitter or her website.

DON’T FORGET TO LEAVE A COMMENT & #PeculiarSavageBeauty!




  1. This book sounds interesting to me. I remember watching/reading with my kids the Sarah, Plain and Tall stories by Patricia MacLachlan. Sarah and her stepchildren had to leave their “dustbowl” home because it became unbearable to live there. Sarah was also an independent spirit. I would love to read more about that time period and area and a female main character who’s plucky, determined and independent is all I want to hear about!


  2. The Dust Bowl era is always an interesting time to read about. It’s almost impossible to comprehend how the world was back then and what they went through just to survive during that time.


  3. This book definitely sounds like something I would enjoy because of family and I love reading about strong independent women!


  4. I thought I recognized your name and I have lived off of Raising Arizona Kids for the past 15 years so I am sure I came across an article or two.

    Can’t wait to check out the new book.

    Thanks you!


  5. This really sounds very interesting. I devour books about the US. One come quickly to mind. Centennial. I loved it


  6. Thank you so much for highlighting my novel, Linda. And thanks to everyone who commented and expressed interest. Wishing you all luck in the drawing!


    1. Jessica, Thank you for letting Below The Salt News be a part of your book launch for PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY. We are on the cusp of so many Dust Bowl type environmental scenarios today, we would do well to study and relearn the causes, impacts, and remedies now. Got a kindle copy a few days ago and today is my day to sit on the porch and enjoy. Can’t wait.


  7. The drawing for a signed hardback copy of PECULIAR SAVAGE BEAUTY is now closed. Thank you to all who left a comment on or facebook or twitter. Your names have been entered into the drawing and the winner will be announced tomorrow.


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