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by Karen Hesse
Scholastic, Inc., 1997
Review by Jane Farist on Nov 19th 2003
As a novel, Out of the Dust
by Karen Hesse is somewhat unconventional as it is written in a combination
diary-poetry form. However, those with
poem phobias should not be alarmed; each "diary entry" is written in
free verse that is really quite easy to read.
The ease of reading, however, does not mean that the book is
simplistic. The relative paucity of
words belies the powerful story that is contained in its pages.
Billie Jo Kelby is 14 years old and
living with her mother and father during the Dust Bowl years of the Great
Depression in Oklahoma. Even though
times are hard, and the ever-present, pervasive dust is everywhere, Billie Jo's
life isn't all that bad. She has a
passion and talent for "playing fierce piano", a talent that her
mother has passed on to her. And, after
years of trying without success, her mother is expecting a baby – perhaps the
son that her father wished for. Then
tragedy strikes, and Billie Jo must work her way out of the dust – the dust of
grief, guilt, blame, and anger that are ever-present, pervasive and threaten to
destroy the only thing Billie Jo has left – her relationship with her father.
In the aftermath of tragedy Billie
Jo and her father plod through each day, barely talking or acknowledging the
grief, guilt and pain they feel over their loss. Dust storm after dust storm blows in and covers their home, their
lives and their souls, until finally, Billie Jo can not bear to live in the
dust anymore, and she leaves on a train in the night to get out of the dust
that is choking her.
When she has been gone a few days
she realizes she is more like her father, who is "like the sod" and
less like her mother who "had been tumbleweed." She knows then that she has to return. And it is here, near the end, that the story
of Billie Jo is most heartbreaking – and yet heart mending. Everything is not set aright at once, but
slowly, slowly, Billie Jo and her father begin to put the pieces of their lives
back together, and with a little help from a kind woman, the both find their
way out of the dust.
Karen Hesse has written a novel
that is, at times, quite melancholy.
Readers may find themselves enveloped in the same dark, choking dust
that settles over Billie Jo and her father.
And yet, throughout the book there is always a glimmer of hope, always a
rain shower to wash away the dust, and make the reader realize that even in all
this despair, renewed life and hope can be found.
© 2003 Jane Farist. All rights reserved.
After four years in the U.S. Navy
and eight years as a 911 dispatcher and administrator, Jane Farist returned to
college to complete her degree. She is
currently a junior at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, majoring
in Middle Grades Education, with a concentration in Language Arts and Social