One of the things I love about a novel written in verse is that you can take the entire thing in quickly, sometimes in one sitting. With one gulp I took in the sadness and the hope of this book, dust storms and death laced with glimpses of sweetness. I read it first when my oldest was a toddler and my reading time was sporadic and brief, and again before writing this post, my oldest engaged to be married. The writing is amazing, it won the Newbery after all, and it is Karen Hesse, the first book of hers that I read but certainly not the last. It doesn’t feel right to say that I learned about the dust bowl, it feels right to say that I felt it, the grit on the piano keys, in the sheets, between the teeth, everywhere. There is a grasp of story in this book, a sense of when the reader can’t take one more bit of sorrow and so we get some lightness. It is a book to make you cry, to make you pull out your highlighter so you can capture the truths, the kind of book you have to share with someone. Like this part:
Ma has rules for setting the table.
I place plates upside down,
glasses bottom side up,
napkins folded over forks, knives and spoons.
When dinner is ready,
we sit down together
and Ma says,
We shake out our napkins,
spread them on our laps,
and flip over our glasses and plates,
exposing neat circles,
on what life would be like without dust.
See how she does that? Placing us in February, 1934, Oklahoma, at the table with such precise details and then using them to show us just how bad it was. The dust was relentless, quick, everywhere, and we feel it at this dinner table. This kind of writing is on every page, making up a story that is gritty as the dust bowl and hopeful as a rainstorm.