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09:34 pm: 2015 Reading Challenge: Hesse's Out of the Dust (author with my initials)

This is one of my favorites from the reading challenge: a book by an author with the same initials as mine. I would never, in a gabillion years, think to look for a book using that criterion. I thought about Knut Hamsun (he did win a Nobel prize, after all, and I know I have Pan packed in a box someplace in the basement), but I'm trying to go for new authors and especially new books as much as I can.

A quick Google search yielded Karen Hesse, none of whose books I've not read. Yippee! New author! One I've never even heard of!

Once again, I didn't notice that an author writes young adult books (in this case, started publishing well after I would have been reading YA regularly). :eye roll: I'm not usually quite this unobservant. I can only figure I was so excited about acquiring a whole bunch of books at once that I didn't pay enough attention to individual titles.

Hesse's Out of the Dust is a Newbery Medal winner (nope, didn't notice that either, which would have been a tip off) and it's quite lovely (also quite quick -- at 227 pages of usually short lines, easily less than an hour). It's written in first-person free verse, like a poetic journal of sorts. The protagonist is Billie Jo, a 14-year-old farm girl living in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. She and her family endure enormous hardship and she learns a great deal about her strengths and challenges in the face of tragedy.

I'm not sure the voice is entirely genuine - Billie Jo is a fairly typical 14-year-old, emotionally, but her use of language is far more mature than that. To me, Billie Jo's is an adult voice expressing 'tweener thoughts. But that didn't bother me. The language is beautiful and the emotions ring true. And it's a very vivid account of the Dust Bowl that calls to mind Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck. which are mighty big references for YA fiction.

Out of the Dust also reminded me of how many stories I read growing up that fanned my interest in history: Johnny Tremaine, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, the Little House books, Mary Poppins, Little Women, Island of the Blue Dolphin, Hold Fast to Your Dreams, Adam of the Road... Experience with a middle school teacher later blew any love of history right out of me, which is unfortunate. Teddy loves the Horrible History books, and I hope he'll retain his interest.

In the meantime, Out of the Dust is a keeper.

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