Out of the Dust
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First edition cover
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||227 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||0-590-36080-9 (first edition, hardback)|
|LC Class||PZ7.H4364 Ou 1997|
Out of the Dust is a verse novel by Karen Hesse, first published in 1997
Billie Jo tells how she knows her father wants to have a son instead of a daughter, but how he loves her anyway. The opening of the book also describes the dust storms causing trouble on farms. (Farms are a vital part to the rural farming community, for it is a homestead area.) As dust storms swoop in and steal any hope of profit from wheat, the US government makes moves to try to help the area. FDR's New Deal is a series of programs to assist farmers (along with the rest of the country). Daddy takes a loan to try and start a new wheat crop, which Ma advises against, but the dust carries it away.
One day while Billie Jo's pregnant mother is making breakfast, her father leaves a pail of kerosene next to the stove and then goes out into the fields. Her mother picks up the pail, mistakenly thinking it is water and makes "a rope of fire". Screaming to her husband, Billie Jo's mother runs out to the fields, with Billie Jo behind her. Thinking the house may catch on fire, Billie Jo runs back inside and throws the can of kerosene out the door. Unfortunately, her mother is running back to the house, and Billie Jo ends up throwing the can of kerosene onto her mother, lighting her on fire. Billie Jo runs outside and began to beat the flames on her mother with her bare hands in an attempt to save both her mother and unborn sibling. Her mother is taken inside and treated by the local doctor, but she never again looks like "Ma" to Billie Jo, for she is unrecognizable through her burns. Billie Jo's own hands are badly burned as well, swollen and dripping pus. One night, Billie Jo's father takes the money allocated to pay for his daughter's future education and gets drunk. Billie Jo is left trying to give water (using immensely swollen hands) to her injured mother.
A few days later, Billie Jo's mother dies while giving birth to her son. The baby is delivered and lives for a few moments, until he too is pronounced dead. Buried on top of a hill, Billie Jo names him Franklin after the president, for her father is lost for words.
Billie Jo and her father begin to drift apart from each other. After the deaths, Billie Jo stops calling her father "Daddy." Scarred and burned, Billie Jo is left unable to play piano, one of the few joys that had remained in her life. Time goes on, and she begins to notice spots on her father's face, similar to those on her grandfather when he had skin cancer. After trying to return to her former life style, Billie Jo becomes desperate to get out of the dust, so she gets up and leaves one night with only a handful of biscuits.
She hitchhikes on a train, and a homeless and smelly man comes up to her. Talking for a while, he shows her a picture of his family before she falls asleep. She awakens to find that her food is gone, but the picture that the man had of his family is left in its place. It is here she learns of her sense of belonging, and it all becomes clear to her.
After a week, Billie Jo returns home and convinces her father to go see a doctor. She calls him "Daddy" for the first time since the incident. The two even start to gain each other's trust again. She then meets Louise, a woman who stayed with her father while Billie was on the run. Billie Jo respects Louise because Louise knows how to cope with "two red heads" and not "step on the toes of a ghost". Billie Jo and Louise just talk, and her father eventually ends up marrying Louise.
The novel ends with Billie Jo describing her life as not the best but still happy. Even though she misses Ma and wants Franklin back, she is out of the rest of her struggles and always tries to forget about it; sad and happy. The departure of the dust storms and her father being happy and alive gives her hope. She just might stay out of the dust after all.
- Hesse, Karen. Out of the Dust. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 1997. Print.