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Out Of The Dust (Newbery Medal Book) Hardcover – October 1, 1997
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Like the Oklahoma dust bowl from which she came, 14-year-old narrator Billie Jo writes in sparse, free-floating verse. In this compelling, immediate journal, Billie Jo reveals the grim domestic realities of living during the years of constant dust storms: That hopes--like the crops--blow away in the night like skittering tumbleweeds. That trucks, tractors, even Billie Jo's beloved piano, can suddenly be buried beneath drifts of dust. Perhaps swallowing all that grit is what gives Billie Jo--our strong, endearing, rough-cut heroine--the stoic courage to face the death of her mother after a hideous accident that also leaves her piano-playing hands in pain and permanently scarred.
Meanwhile, Billie Jo's silent, windblown father is literally decaying with grief and skin cancer before her very eyes. When she decides to flee the lingering ghosts and dust of her homestead and jump a train west, she discovers a simple but profound truth about herself and her plight. There are no tight, sentimental endings here--just a steady ember of hope that brightens Karen Hesse's exquisitely written and mournful tale. Hesse won the 1998 Newbery Award for this elegantly crafted, gut-wrenching novel, and her fans won't want to miss The Music of Dolphins or Letters from Rifka. (Ages 9 and older) --Gail Hudson
From Publishers Weekly
In a starred review of the 1998 Newbery Medal winner, set during the Depression, PW said, "This intimate novel, written in stanza form, poetically conveys the heat, dust and wind of Oklahoma. With each meticulously arranged entry Hesse paints a vivid picture of her heroine's emotions." Ages 11-13.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top customer reviews
"Yes," she replied "and you are going to love it."
She was right.
I read the book through in a couple of hours that night, then went back and read it again, slowly.
The book is written in free verse, which is so appropriate as 14-year-old Billie Jo talks about the free-floating sand and dust on her family's dirt-scratching Oklahoma wheat farm during the 1930s dust bowl.
The youngster stoically copes with one loss after another and finds no one to confide in. Billie Jo's mother is absorbed in her long-desired pregnancy, and Billie Jo's silent father seems to think only of the soil, growing plants and digging a hole to retain water.
The piano in the living room of their tiny house becomes a focal point, demonstrating that some beauty was able to peek through those dismal dust-filled days. Billie Jo learns to play the musical instrument from her talented mother, and makes a name for herself at school. The three are looking forward to the baby's arrival, when another disaster strikes.
While many of their neighbors begin heading west as the fierce dust storms force them out, Billie Jo's father says they have lived through hard times before and they are staying put no matter what. Her mother accidentally splashes a pail of kerosene while making tea and runs screaming out the door from the resulting flames. Billie Jo grabs the pail and throws it out the door --- just as her mother rushes back inside. Altho Billie Jo tries to beat out the flames with her hands, it is a futile effort. Her mother is fatally wounded and a few days later the long awaited baby is stillborn, adding to Billie Jo's grief. Also Billie Jo's hands are so burned and scarred she can no longer play the piano.
Billie Jo is so overcome with guilt, shame, and grief she finally runs away only to discover how much she needs her father and the farm. The book ends on a happy note with her father able to tell her that he loves her, a friendly neighbor begins bringing them food and makes her father smile again.
The big surprise for me was learning the author was not writing her own biography, because she made it so believable. Karen Hesse lived in Baltimore and only drove through the Great Plains area. Then she began researching the dust bowl years and many of the stories in this book are taken directly from newspaper items of the day. I have recommended this book to everyone I know.