Snapshot: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Let’s step back in time back to last month’s theme of verse novels and take a look at Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust. The setting is a small farm in Oklahoma during the depths of the Great Depression. From January 1934 to December 1935, Billie Jo, our (initially) 13-year-old narrator and her parents struggle to manage a farm when the rain doesn’t come, the wind blows away any fertile soil, and the dust covers everything and everyone with a fine, choking layer of grit. Billie Jo loves her parents, but she wants most of all to leave the tired soil and constant dust behind.


Themes and facts that may interest you in reading Out of the Dust, i.e. things to look for/forward to:

  • Billie Jo is an artist: she plays the piano and performs locally. She hungers for art of all kinds.
  • Historical details, such as the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets (Canadian content!) and contemporary politics
  • Guilt, death, grief, hunger, poverty, community
  • mother-daughter relationships
  • father-daughter relationships
  • teacher-student relationships
  • step-relationships
  • a protagonist who is physically harmed and suffers through physical as well as emotional pain

Out of the Dust delicately balances the personal, both internal and familial experiences, with the ongoings of the wider community and the nation as related by a remarkable and hardy narrator.

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