Out of the Dust

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

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 33 reviews

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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 byKathryn G. April 29, 2019


A beautifully written story but with nightmarish details. The main character's pregnant mother is horrifically burned and dies after days of writhing and m... Continue reading
Written byAnonymous November 18, 2018

Left me depressed

I read this book as a nine or ten year old and the book was actually interesting and good until the accident part and after the burning I was fustrated, sad and... 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 byEvent Horizon November 13, 2010

Makes Where the Red Fern Grows feel like a comedy

Nothing wrong with it when it appropriatness-wise, besides a WOMAN CAUGHT ON FIRE. Okay, that's out of the way. Everything wrong with it story-wise, entert... 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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