by Karen Hesse
First sentence: “As summer wheat came ripe, so did I, born at home, on the kitchen floor.”
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My original “review”, from a long, long time ago was this: “Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse: Free-verse poetry about the Dust Bowl in Kansas. I’m not crazy about the free-verse idea; I found it difficult to ‘get into’ the story.”
First off: I was wrong. It’s the pan-handle of Oklahoma, not Kansas. Now that I live here, that’s a very important distinction to make. We’re not just all plains states lumped into one category out here.
Secondly: I’ve come to actually really like novels in verse. And I think it suits this book; it’s spare like the environment is out here, especially during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. It works as a form, and it doesn’t bog the story down.
That said, this book is SO depressing.
It’s the story of Billy Jo, age 14, in 1934, the height of the Great Depression. It’s just her and her parents, out on the prairie; her father keeps trying to beat the odds and grow some wheat. Her mother is pregnant when tragedy strikes and both she and the baby die. Billy Jo, who is also injured in the accident, and her dad stick it out, trying to make everything work, even as it all is falling apart.
See? Not exactly cheery.
Other than elegance of the form and the depressing story, there isn’t much to say. It’s not my favorite out of the Newbery winners, but it’s not too bad, either.