Title - Out of The Dust
Author - Karen Hesse
Publisher - Scholastic
Age group - 11 - 13 years
Out of the Dust is a young adult novel set in the 1930s of USA, highlighting the Dust Bowl. Dust Bowl or the Dirty Thirties was a period of intense dust storms that ravaged mainly the prairie lands of Texas and Oklahoma. This story takes us through the life of a teenage girl called Billie Jo, who lives in a small town of Oklahoma with her farmer dad and mother.
The story starts off with Billie Jo, describing their frugal but contented life on the farm. She is very passionate about the piano and her inspiration is her mother. In the midst of the few good things happening in her life - her piano lessons in school and the eager anticipation of a baby in their house after a long 14 years, the dust storms seem like a blip. Soon the dust storms start enveloping their lives, having a tremendous impact. Her father is worried having had no good crop for years together. The mother is anxious about putting food on the table.
Billie jo is alarmed when her friends start leaving the town towards greener pastures, having lost hope. She is disgusted when farmers in desperation start killing the jack rabbits on massive scale, in the competition for survival between humans and animals. The enormity of the impact of the dust storms is understood very clearly in the vivid descriptions painted by the author. But there is a also a passage, where Billie's school teacher brings out with clarity the human greed, which ultimately led to the ecological disaster. This beautiful line in the passage captures it.
Such a sorrow doesn't come suddenly,
there are a thousand steps to take,
before you get there.
While all the families in the town are battling the dust storms, a sudden tragedy befalls the family of Billie Jo, shaking the very foundation of the family. Left motherless, with hands in an almost impossible condition to finger the piano and a grief stricken silent father, Billie Jo finds herself fighting the storms outside and within. The bleak turbulent battered landscape, almost hopeless, mirrors Billie Jo's state of mind. Does Billie Jo find it in herself to finally triumph over the situation or does she succumb to the ravages of the land and her mind ? This forms the rest of the poignant story.
In the midst of the angst, the author paints pictures of hope and little joys of the people in various ways like - intermittent rains that just parch the dry lips of the earth, folks gathering to watch the awesome spectacle of cereus flower blooming on the single night, people crowding in a hotel to hear their very own town boy's voice on the radio and children of the school unexpectedly getting a treat of pastries and pies !
The entire book has been written in free verse, which I think is the biggest credit to the author. All the facts and emotions related to the Dust Bowl have been written so impressively, making you want to revisit some of the lines and marvel at their usage. This book has won numerous awards some of them being -Newberry Medal, Scott O'Dell award and ALA Notable children's book. Personally, reading this book has been such an enlightening and enriching experience. As the concluding lines of the review, I wanted to add these lines from the book which touched me a lot :
The way I see it, hard times aren't only
Hard times are about losing spirit,
and what happens when dreams dry up.
On the subject of the Dust Bowl, there is another wonderful story book - a graphic novel by Matt Phelan called "The Storm in the Barn". If Karen Hesse has managed to bring to life the Dust Bowl period though her deft verses, Matt has achieved the same effect through his haunting images and minimal text. This book deserves a separate post and I just wanted to mention the book here in the context of Dust Bowl.