A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?