What we are saying when we recommend a book

It’s more, isn’t it, than just: hey I liked this one a lot, take a gander.  Yet again, it’s not much more than that.  When we recommend a book we are pulling back the curtain ever so slightly and saying:  hey, take a look at the book, take a look at me. It’s easier sometime than sitting down and discussing the significant milestones in your life with someone over a cuppa. The psychoanalysts might say we subconsciously recommend some books over others to friends and family without even knowing why. They could be right on that one.

The first book my niece has ever recommended to me was: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.

Out of the Dust is a YA book written entirely in a series of free verse poems.   It is a book my niece says she read over and over as a very young girl.  My niece said: “ I don’t even know if I understood much of it at the time.”  Yet she continued to reread it.

As I read Out of the Dust I thought how strange that a 10 year old would love such a book.  It is relentlessly sad, overwhelmingly tragic. Out of the Dust is about a family of farmers living in Oklahoma during the depths of the Depression and height of the Dust Bowl storms.  The main character is a young girl named Billie Jo.  She introduces herself in the first chapter of the book by saying: “ As summer wheat came ripe, so did I, born at home, on the kitchen floor”.

In the telling of her family’s dust-choked life from 1933-1935 the only hint of metaphorical clarity and sunlight is the joy Billie Jo feels when she plays the piano.  But even then, the author takes that away from her in a tragic accident too sad to write about here.    Here’s one chapter of the book:

Broken Promise

It rained

a little everywhere

but here

March 1935

In the end, Out of the Dust is a story of how only the very strong and the lucky in our most vulnerable class -the very poor- survive in this world; an overpowering and unforgiving world in which they have little control.

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