cover image Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust

Karen Hesse. Scholastic, $16.95 (227pp) ISBN 978-0-590-36080-7

This intimate novel, written in stanza form, poetically conveys the heat, dust and wind of Oklahoma along with the discontent of narrator Billy Jo, a talented pianist growing up during the Depression. Unlike her father, who refuses to abandon his failing farm (""He and the land have a hold on each other""), Billy Jo is eager to ""walk my way West/ and make myself to home in that distant place/ of green vines and promise."" She wants to become a professional musician and travel across the country. But those dreams end with a tragic fire that takes her mother's life and reduces her own hands to useless, ""swollen lumps."" Hesse's (The Music of Dolphins) spare prose adroitly traces Billy Jo's journey in and out of darkness. Hesse organizes the book like entries in a diary, chronologically by season. With each meticulously arranged entry she paints a vivid picture of Billy Jo's emotions, ranging from desolation (""I look at Joe and know our future is drying up/ and blowing away with the dust"") to longing (""I have a hunger,/ for more than food./ I have a hunger/ bigger than Joyce City"") to hope (the farmers, surveying their fields,/ nod their heads as/ the frail stalks revive,/ everyone, everything, grateful for this moment,/ free of the/ weight of dust""). Readers may find their own feelings swaying in beat with the heroine's shifting moods as she approaches her coming-of-age and a state of self-acceptance. Ages 11-13. (Oct.)