Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.
It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.
As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.
Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.
Kiste (Pretty Marys All in a Row) nimbly invokes Rust Belt frustrations in this haunting fantasy set on working-class Denton Street in Cleveland, Ohio. Phoebe Shaw, 18, is "a bad girl with good grades" who's bound for university as an escape from the dying steel mill suburb where she grew up. But when a strange affliction seizes the other girls on her street, including her cousin Jacqueline, Phoebe discovers escaping won't be easy. The girls are changing: underneath their skin, their innards have all turned to rust. Alternating, perhaps needlessly, between the harrowing past and the stifling present, Phoebe recounts the failure of the steel workers' latest strike, which has echoes in the neighborhood's ruthless oppression of the increasingly powerful Rust Maidens. There's also a romantic subplot, but it falls flat amid the turmoil. Kiste focuses on demonstrating the indignities young women may suffer when they defy society's rules defining what they're allowed to be. Despite its flaws, the Rust Maidens' story is very much worth reading.