keeperOut of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Release Date: June 1, 2005
Publisher: Scholastic
Source: Digital Copy
Rating: starstarstarblank_starblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

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. – Goodreads

You know it’s going to be rough when even the summary describes the story as “heart-wrenching.” Newbery winners make me cry every. Single. Time. Having a baby has made me go soft, I’m afraid. The “free verse” style of writing makes it a little hard to read on an ereader, but it was fine otherwise. I am not the biggest fan of books written in verse, but this one wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It could have been written with dialect (shudder).

I find the whole history of the Dust Bowl really heartbreaking and frustrating, since we did it to ourselves. People basically farmed their way into this period of time, and people starved, were choked by dust, and the land didn’t recover until decades later. So whenever I read anything about this period (based in fact or not), I get this feeling of dread while I wait for something terrible to happen. Billie Jo’s father is a farmer in a place that hasn’t been able to harvest decent crops in three years, and her mother is pregnant. This cannot end well, can it? It’s a Newbery winner. Someone is going to die. And someone does. Two someones. And it’s terrible, and Billie’s Jo’s guilt. Well. That’s almost worse.

I didn’t want to read this at first because I knew it would be a punch to the feelings, but that’s what really made it work for me in the end. It’s a quick read, like all these required books have been, but it’s hard to rate it highly because it’s a story that hurts. Death and the Great Depression spares no one, old, young, animal, or human. I got used to the “free verse” style the book was written in, and as a novel that will be used to teach younger kids history, and how to relate, and the horrors that sometimes live in our collective pasts, I think it does more than just a good job.