I would highly recommend Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust. I first read this book in college but find myself wishing I had been able to read it when I was younger. Many of us who love the literary arts would connect with the main character, Billie Jo Kelby, because she is a girl passionate about the art of music. Hesse composes the book using diary-like poems told from Billie Jo’s point-of-view. They are dynamic for their structure and rhythm, just like the jazz music Billie Jo loves to play on the piano. Personally, I have always preferred prose to poetry, but Hesse’s style blends the two so seamlessly and beautifully that lovers of each will be greatly pleased.
The story takes place in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowls and Depression of the 1930s. Although Billie Jo is only in her pre-teens, she understands that her Ma and Dad are struggling to make ends meet because of the poor harvests due to lack of rain. Dust is an ever-present force throughout the novel: “piling like snow across the prairie,” speckling their milk, and entering their mouths and noses. The dust feels even more oppressive when Billie Jo loses her mother in a freak accident for which she feels partly responsible. The novel takes a dramatic turn, and Billie Jo feels she no longer recognizes her father and has difficulty playing the piano because of her scar tissue. The story is quite tragic, and readers wonder if she will ever be able to heal.
Despite the subject matter, this book gives one an honest look into the strength of character that people living during this time had to possess. It is a beautiful account of a frightening situation that most of us could not begin to imagine enduring. For anyone who has ever dealt with the loss of a loved one or even an extremely difficult time, I greatly recommend this amazing novel.