by Karen Hesse
Reading level: MG
Book type: verse novel
When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.
Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma's staggering dust storms, and the environmental--and emotional--turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
This is the book that made me think that I didn't like novels in verse. I had it from the library years ago, read a few pages, and then gave up, utterly bored. Now, years later, after reading a number of verse novels and having watched Ken Burns's The Dust Bowl, I can better see this book for what it is: a heart-wrenching story of loss and triumph set against a backdrop of one of the worst man-made disasters in recent history.
Its biggest weakness is probably that it's unlikely to appeal to the age group for which it was intended. I can see this book as assigned reading for middle school, along with an accompanying unit teaching kids about the Depression and the Dust Bowl years. But I have my doubts as to whether most middle-graders would read a book like this for enjoyment (unless they're really into history). The story is also fairly dark and traumatic at times; it's pretty heavy stuff for a children's book.
Nevertheless, Out of the Dust is one of the stronger verse novels I've read. I would definitely recommend it to fans of verse novels and historical fiction.
Overall: 4.43 out of 5