Out of the Dust is Billie Jo Kelby's first person narration of her life near Joyce City, Oklahoma from January though December when she was fourteen and fifteen years old. Mad Dog escapes the Dust Bowl by getting a job in Amarillo as a radio performer.
She accepts her role as a newcomer to the family and is patient. Lean, stark and pared down, it is like the Oklahoma panhandle during the dust bowl of the early 's.
Job was stripped of all his earthly possessions — his farm, his house, and his family.
He has unknowingly abandoned her. Her experiences and actions cause her to change during the novel. While her mother is making coffee she mistakenly pours the kerosene thinking its water, and it starts a fire.
If Billie Jo's hands had not been severely burned in the accident, she might have followed in Mad Dog's footsteps and used her talent as a pianist to escape as well. They sit across the table from each other, but it is as though they are strangers.
She is sad and upset with herself that she harmed her mother and her baby brother. Billie Jo loses her mother and newborn baby brother when they die. Louise is a "plain and honest" woman.
She is grieving for the loss of her mother, her baby brother, and her ability to play the piano, which was to be her escape out of the Dust Bowl. She witnesses death by dust, death by fire, starvation, abandonment, mutilation, and other events that would break the spirit of most people.