(Image from Barnes & Noble)
More than anything, 14-year-old Billie Jo Kelby wants to leave. Leave drought-choked Oklahoma. Leave the crumbling family farm. Leave her broken father. Leave behind the grief and guilt she carries over her mother's death. It's 1934; plenty of folks are abandoning their failing farms for brighter prospects out West. Billie Jo longs to follow. If only her hands hadn't been burned to useless stumps in the fire that killed her mother, she could make a living playing the piano. If only ifs weren't all she had.
As Billie Jo tries to eke out a life in a difficult, desolate landscape, she'll have to rely on her own cunning, bravery, and determination to survive. Fortunately, she has all of these in spades.
Told in free verse, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is a raw, powerful read that is as spare as it is evocative. The setting comes to life so vividly that you can feel the grit between your teeth, taste it in your throat, and feel it stinging your eyes. This overpowering imagery makes Out of the Dust truly unforgettable. Billie Jo, herself, is almost as compelling as her surroundings. She's courageous, real, and wholly sympathetic. Although this novel is written for young readers, it's not a gentle story. In fact, it's harsh, haunting, and heartbreaking. It's also an inspiring tale that will make you think long, long after you finish it. If you enjoy historical novels, I highly recommend this noteworthy Newbery winner.
(Readalikes: I haven't read any other children's books about the Dust Bowl, but Out of the Dust reminded me of adult novels like The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for disturbing subject matter (death, child abandonment, suicide, etc.)
To the FTC, with love: Another library