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Out of the Dust

Book review by
Megan McDonald, Common Sense Media
Out of the Dust Book Poster Image
A penetrating look at a poor child's life.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 29 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Billy Jo's father reacts to her mother's death with a brief drinking binge--behavior that doesn't recur again.


Billie Jo accidentally sets her mother on fire by throwing a bucket of kerosene on her. One graphic scene explicitly describes her burns. She dies, as does her newly born baby boy, and Billy Jo's hands are disfigured in the accident.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this powerful and poignant tale set amid Oklahoma's "Dust Bowl" years is told entirely in free verse, which might pose a challenge for some readers. And although the writing is exceptional, the subject matter is relentlessly bleak; the book's joylessness might limit its appeal to young readers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bymegaritzmom February 6, 2013

NOT for Children or Anyone who is Depressed

This is absolutely NOT for children under 14, and even then, great discretion should be used. No one, not even an adult, should be required to read this book. A... Continue reading
Adult Written bydylandog July 8, 2010

Read Out Of The Dust!!

This book was amazing it really inspired me. I think this book is a great read because the story is well written and the plot is very simple it's not like... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byweisman3 May 17, 2011


I loved this book, it was great. But it has a difficult story to tell. It is most because it is in the time of the great depuration and the dust bowl. I loved... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written by018 April 9, 2008

What's Great?........ This book

I loved all the drama in this book I think it really explains what it would be like back in that time. I though there was alot of drama in the book.I think the... Continue reading

What's the story?

A penetrating, gut-wrenching look at the seasons of discontent in Billie Jo's year, growing up in the wind, dust, drought, and heat of Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma. Billie Jo's is a faraway voice with immediate appeal in this foreboding, clenched fist of a novel. An umbrella of emotion weighs heavily over each sad event, true to the austere historical setting.


Is it any good?

Billie Jo describes her desolate internal and external landscape with a searing, brutal honesty. She narrates, in unfolding glimpses of story, a tale of death, destruction, dust, and the search for redemption that's written in the first-person, poetic, stanza form of Virginia Euwer Wolff's Make Lemonade. With uncompromising realism, the author shows life in the Dust Bowl taking one sad turn after another for this "redheaded, freckle-faced, narrow-hipped girl with a fondness for apples and a hunger for playing fierce piano."

The increasingly doleful progression of events hammers at the reader, nearly overwhelming the faint light of hope that appears at last in the form of a journey, a surrogate mother, and the promise of music that comes from the healing of Billie Jo's hands as well as heart.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Dust Bowl in a historical context, focusing on the effect the severe storms had on the livelihood of working families. If you and your family were faced with the same conditions, do you think you could survive? Did hardship bring Billie Jo's family closer together -- or tear them farther apart? How did Billie Jo's relationship with her father change in the wake of her mother's death?

Book details

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