Home School Book Review, December 11, 2012 (view all comments by Home School Book Review)
Fourteen-year-old Billie Jo Kelby lives with her Pa, Bayard Kelby, and her Ma Polly, who is going to have a baby, near Joyce City in the Oklahoma panhandle during the dust bowl days of the Great Depression. Born in August of 1920, she begins her diary, written in free verse, in January of 1934 and covers the next two years of her life with a chronicle of her family’s dreary existence including both her tragedies and triumphs. Her best friend Livie Killian moves with her family to California. The Kelby farm is failing, and all Billie Jo wants to do is to escape the dust that envelopes her. However, her Pa is determined to stick it out. Then a terrible accident transforms both her family and her life. But the one thing that might make things more bearable, playing the piano, seems impossible with her now scarred hands. How will she cope with all her difficulties?
Author Karen Hesse bases the picture drawn in this book, which won the 1998 Newbery Medal, on true stories which she read in an Oklahoma newspaper, the 1934 Boise City News. In her Newbery Acceptance Speech, Hesse said that the story “was about forgiveness.” I found it interesting and informative, but the two biggest complaints which I have heard about the book are that it is boring and that it is depressing. I can understand how children who want only bang-bang, shoot-‘em-up action books would find a simple account like this to be “boring,” but then “boring,” like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And yes, it is a bit “depressing,” but then it is set in the “Depression,” and there is a reason why this era was given that name. Out of the Dust does an excellent job of helping the reader to gain insight into the absolute poverty which many people of that day experienced. At the same time, I would not recommend it to a child who is actually dealing with the problem of depression.
Other than a couple of common euphemisms (i.e., “darn” and “heck”), there is no cursing or profanity. After the accident, Pa did take Ma’s money to go out and get drunk, although he did not continue doing that, and one scene about making moonshine occurs, along with some references to dancing. Some sensitive youngsters may shrink from the description of “Grown men clubbing bunnies to death.” And one day when it does rain, Billie Jo sees her pregnant mom out behind the barn “bare as a pear.” Before anyone writes in to complain about my mentioning these things, I’m not saying that they make the book bad or that people shouldn’t read it because of them. It’s just that some parents want to know about such things ahead of time so that they can be prepared to discuss them with their children. The free verse used in the book is certainly different, but the sparseness of language emphasizes the sense of despair, yet with an underlying feeling of hope. My suggestion, especially for those who don’t care for poetry, is to forget about trying to follow the free verse and just read the story as prose. That worked for me!
ReaderOfBooks, April 3, 2011 (view all comments by ReaderOfBooks)
I love this book! It's very easy to connect with Billie Jo Kelby. She is a good character, in that she overcomes her difficulties with her hands and with forgiving her father for her mother's death. I really like how the book is written in free verse poems. It makes the reader focus more on the events that happen, and how Billie Jo feels about them. The end of the book is the best part, in my opinion.
manga.freak, November 6, 2009 (view all comments by manga.freak)
I like the writing style but not any of the characters. The characters seemed flat. I liked the writing in free verse poetry. Overall the book was pretty depressing, so if you don't like depressing books do not read this!
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huskadore, December 10, 2007 (view all comments by huskadore)
Out of the Dust is a very pleasurable reading book. I really enjoyed reading it. It was pretty suspenseful too. I love suspense! Keep writing them like this Karen Hesse!! Thanks for writing this great book!!!!!
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by Publishers Weekly (Starred Review),
"This intimate novel...poetically conveys the heat, dust and wind of Oklahoma....Readers may find their own feelings swaying in beat with the heroine's shifting moods as she approaches her coming-of-age and a state of self-acceptance."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Hesse presents a hale and determined heroine who confronts unrelenting misery and begins to transcend it. The poem/novel ends with only a trace of hope; there are no pat endings, but a glimpse of beauty wrought from brutal reality."
by School Library Journal,
"Hesse's ever-growing skill as a writer willing to take chances with her form shines through superbly in her ability to take historical facts and weave them into the fictional story of a character young people will readily embrace."
by Sarah K. Herz, VOYA,
"[E]vocative....This novel celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit....A thoughtful and provocative book for classrooms and libraries."
by Alexandria LaFaye, Children's Literature,
"The always-inventive author of A Time of Angels has done it again....In this testament to the strength of one girl's will, Hesse takes a poetic turn at telling the story of the Oklahoma dust bowl during the Great Depression."
by Ted Hipple, The ALAN Review,
"[T]old by as memorable a heroine as you will meet in YA literature, Out of the Dust will wrench your gut....[A] distinguished novel, richly meriting as wide a readership as possible among teens, among adults. It is very good."
A poem cycle that reads as a novel, this Newbery Medal winner tells the story of Billie Jo, a girl who struggles to help her family survive the dust bowl years of the Depression.
This gripping story, written in sparse first-person, free-verse poems, is the compelling tale of Billie Jo's struggle to survive during the dust bowl years of the Depression. With stoic courage, she learns to cope with the loss of her mother and her grieving father's slow deterioration. There is hope at the end when Billie Jo's badly burned hands are healed, and she is able to play her beloved piano again. The 1998 Newbery Medal winner.
Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can't keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther's family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.
Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but that means there are plenty of opportunities for Esther to show her mother how helpful she can be. She loves all of the farm animals (except the mean geese) and even better makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck?
Debut author Gayle Rosengren brings the past to life in this extraordinary, hopeful story.
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