Out of the Dust (reread)

by Karen Hesse
ages: 11+
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.

5 thoughts on “Out of the Dust (reread)

  1. This was my first narrative verse book. It took me awhile to get to it because it was 'poetry'. I wasn't so into poetry back then. I'm sold on the genre now.
    Let's just say this book made an impression. It's stayed with me so that I can still see the devastated landscape, taste the dry, sandy air and feel the parch-ness of the land and relationships. The struggle of having to overcome so much was really hard to read but I was gripped.
    Apples with Many Seeds


  2. I think elegant is a good description for the prose. Overall I did like this book but you are right that it is a very sad story. Not for everyone to be sure. It's hard for me to know who to ever recommend this book to because of how sad it is. I liked it but it's a book that needs to be read by the right person and at the right time and that's hard to judge on the spot when a kid is looking for something to read. So, I've never recommended it.


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