Copyright: 1997

Age: Junior High+


Stuck in dustbowl Oklahoma farming during the depression, fourteen-year-old Billie Jo and her family are doing everything they can to survive, especially with another baby on the way. When an accident occurs that destroys everything Billie Jo's security is built on, all she wants to do is leave, get out of the dust, or die. But there are more lessons she needs to learn on what is actually important in life.

Sexuality: 4

A woman is said to crouch on the kitchen floor, bare-bottomed, to give birth to her daughter.
A woman is pregnant throughout the book and there are many colorful references to her pregnancy, like, "ripe body," "tight belly," or "bring forth fruit."
A teenage girl says her father looks at her mother with "soft eyes" and she wishes someone would look at her that way.
A woman stands naked in the rain and is seen by her daughter.
A teenage girl wishes she could court a teenage boy who is so handsome he could have anyone he wants.
A teenage girl walks through the rain and gets soaked to the underwear.
A teenage girl says her father smells of her mother after he sleeps in the same bed with her.
A man goes to night classes to spend time with women.
A man courts a woman and eventually they get engaged.

Violence: 5

Men are said to compete in killing rabbits. A girl says she doesn't understand why they'd want to "club bunnies to death." They are later skinned and eaten.
A man's cancer is said to have eaten up his skin.
A girl accidentally throws a pot of burning oil on her mother, who is said to become a "column of fire." She tries to smother the fire and they both get burned. The doctor has to cut away burnt skin with scissors and poke her with pins to see if she feels his touch. The girl has swollen lumps for hands that drip pus. The mother cries out and is in so much pain, writhing and calling for water. What skin she has left smells like meat and is scorched. Her daughter doesn't even think she has a face.
A girl dreams a tortured sound comes from her piano like someone screeching. She dreams her mother births a baby of flames.
A woman dies in childbirth and her baby dies a day later.
Dust is said to sear eyes and cut them up, to make one cough up mud and nose run mud.
Various older people die throughout the book.
A teenage girl thinks her father is going to die in a duststorm.
Cows die from mud in their lungs for dust.
A boy is smothered in a duststorm.
A boy gets tangled up in barbed wire in a duststorm.
A man's feet are bruised and eyes are scratched red from dust.
A woman is said to have died from dust pneumonia.
A man has lumps on his face that could be cancerous and have to be cut off.
A man shoots his dying cows.

Language: 3

"Shut up"
A girl calls her mother an "old mule."
"Drag my back end around"
Gender is called "sex."
"Why the heck?"
A girl curses the dust and sand (no description).

Christian Principles: None

Billie Jo occasionally behaves in a moral way: returning extra change given to her by an often dishonest shopkeeper, feeding hobos, going to church, praying in difficult times (although, to whom, we have no idea), and learning to forgive when she desperately doesn't want to. But there is definitely no mention of God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, or even heaven. She thinks her mother and infant baby brother turn to dust, rock, and wind after they die. She refers to her mother's "ghost" on occasion - although usually for a symbolic meaning. Billie Jo suffers a lot of bitterness over her mother's death, blaming her father even though it was an accident. She attempts to run away, but ends up feeling sorry for her father, returning, and making things right. There is definitely no mention of God, and most of the book proceeds with very little hope. Billie Jo has a "hunger" for fame in order to feel at ease with herself. She definitely revolves around other people's praise, especially in regard to her piano playing. She seems to find her self worth in making music or the security of a home. "The certainty of my home lives in me," she says at the end.

When his wife is burned, Billie Jo's father goes and gets himself drunk. There is also mention of people making moonshine, but whom are caught by the police.

Back    Home