Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (1998 Newbery Medal Winner) is a young adult novel in poetry about the difficulties of dust bowl living in the 1930s. A changing industry, magnified by severe drought and the Great Depression, meant that farming in rural Oklahoma was more difficult than ever. But Billie’s difficulties are compounded. It’s hard enough being on the brink of womanhood, but when tragedies strike, nothing will ever be the same again.
It’s easy to initially label Out of the Dust as a historical novel. But the historical aspect is only one aspect of Billie’s coming-of-age story. On the contrary, this is about family, love, relationships, goals, struggles, and ultimately finding one’s place.
As I pondered the novel as a whole, I found one of the best questions to ask myself is, what does the title symbolize? Is it representative of the dust bowl itself? Billie’s relationship with her father becoming rewarding once more? The rains that finally come? Or Billie’s persistent hope that her future will be different?
There are so many issues to explore in Out of the Dust, and yet the most enjoyable aspect is the clear scene, the lovable narrator, and the writing. It’s an enjoyable book to read. The text is sparse and yet incredibly rich. Karen Hesse is my new author crush. I am in awe of her ability to spin a poignant tale like this in such succinct writing.