Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Like the Oklahoma dust bowl from which she came, 14-year-old narrator Billie Jo writes in sparse, free-floating verse. In this compelling, immediate journal, Billie Jo reveals the grim domestic realities of living during the years of constant dust storms: That hopes–like the crops–blow away in the night like skittering tumbleweeds. That trucks, tractors, even Billie Jo’s beloved piano, can suddenly be buried beneath drifts of dust. Perhaps swallowing all that grit is what gives Billie Jo–our strong, endearing, rough-cut heroine–the stoic courage to face the death of her mother after a hideous accident that also leaves her piano-playing hands in pain and permanently scarred.

Meanwhile, Billie Jo’s silent, windblown father is literally decaying with grief and skin cancer before her very eyes. When she decides to flee the lingering ghosts and dust of her homestead and jump a train west, she discovers a simple but profound truth about herself and her plight. There are no tight, sentimental endings here–just a steady ember of hope that brightens Karen Hesse’s exquisitely written and mournful tale. Hesse won the 1998 Newbery Award for this elegantly crafted, gut-wrenching novel.

What a depressing story. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse makes me grateful for the life I live. Set in the Oklahoma dust bowl it’s one trial after another for Billie Jo and her family as they try to survive in terrible times. This is the kind of book that if I had been forced to read in school I would have hated. However as an adult reading it now I can appreciate it. It’s fairly short and worth the time to read.

Content: Clean read, ages 10+

Rating 3.5 stars simply because it’s so depressing to read. It does end on an optimistic note.