Caroline Davis

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

In Books on February 17, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Summary: Life is hard in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl in the 1930s, where farmers wait for rain and pray that their crops aren’t destroyed by the frequent dust storms.  For Billie Jo Kelby, life becomes even harder after a terrible accident takes the life of her mother and unborn brother, and leaves her hands burned and useless.  Unable to talk to her father, who is struggling to deal with the loss, and unable to play piano, which had been her passion and release, Billie Jo wonders how she can escape from the dust and the sadness at home.  Like the gentle rain that brings hope and relief to the farmers, Billie Jo learns that forgiveness can allow healing to begin and a new life to start.

Highlights: Out of the Dust manages to be both heartbreaking and beautiful.  The story is completely written in a series of free-verse poems told from Billie Jo’s perspective, as if she was keeping a poetic diary as the events of 1934 and 1935 unfolded.  Along with recounting the private struggles of her family and neighbors, Billie Jo has an awareness of the events taking place throughout the nation, from the proclamations of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the attempts of migrants to make new lives for themselves in California, the local excavation of dinosaur fossils, and even the news of quintuplets born to a woman in Canada.  What results is a moving tale of grief and redemption.  Winner of the 1998 Newbery Medal and several other awards.


Karen Hesse Biography

Interview with Karen Hesse (Scholastic)

Other Reviews:

@ Becky’s Book Reviews

@ Maw Book Blog

@ Dirt Roads and High Topped Shoes

@ words by Annie

  1. I’ve always meant to read Out of the Dust. Both my grandparents lived through the Great Depression. My grandmother experienced the harshness of the dust storms and the struggles of farming under difficult, almost hopeless conditions. The poetry format sounds interesting.

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