I was drawn to this book by the cover which is a photo by Walker Evans. I am a big fan of his work which is an integral part of one of my favorite books, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, dealing with the poor farmers of the New South. I actually read this book about two months ago and then again this week. It is written in free verse and a very quick, but moving, read.
14 year old Billie Jo narrates this fictional account of one family's experiences during the 1930s in the Oklahoma dust bowl. The sorrows and hopes of the family come to life as Billie Jo attempts to escape from her harsh reality. The free verse used by author Karen Hesse almost makes you taste and feel the grit in your mouth. The book was also awarded the Soctt O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.
Interestingly enough, the day I brought this book home, my husband brought home Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. I have read only the first few chapters of this work and it validates the narrative presented by Hesse. One interesting fact that I remember from Egan is that more dirt was moved in the dust bowl than in the creation of the Panama Canal. Amazing (and forgive me if I have the wrong canal, but the dirt moved in digging any canal is more than I want to breathe)!
Billie Jo has the same thoughts and dreams as any young female. Her verses are named and one of my favorites ends like this:
I do as she says. I go to school,
and in the afternoons I come home,
run through my chores,
do my reading and my math work at the
and all the while I glare at Ma's back with a scowl
foul as maggoty stew. (29)
I remember this look both as a child and as a mother! Just one more thing - Hesse provides a wonderfully simple portrayal of birthing in the school house which should remind us all how natural birth is as a process. This book seems to touch all emotions and I think shows perseverance over hardship and sadness. Very quick and informative read.