Pearl Spence Novels / Susie Finkbeiner. 4.26.2018

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl / Susie Finkbeiner. (Pearl Spence Novels, 1)

Kregel Publications ISBN 9780825443886

A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression / Susie Finkbeiner. (Pearl Spence Novels, 2)

Kregel Publications ISBN 9780825444463

Adult Rating: 5

In 1934, dust is a constant for the citizens of Red River, Oklahoma, including ten-year-old Pearl Spence; however, she and her family have it better than most. Her daddy is the town Sheriff, meaning he gets paid every month and they do not have to bear the shame of relying on the government aid trucks. They also enjoy the comforts of a real home, not a sharecropper’s cabin. Life is not perfect. Some days Pearl tires of watching her big sister Beanie whose mind does not work the same as other folks’. Pearl also struggles with the injustices of her world, like a man who hurts his family or That Woman no one ever acknowledges. Life is hard, but Pearl has her family and fairy tales to help her rise above the dust seeping into every corner of life.

Her peaceful existence, however, is threatened when a strange drifter jumps off a passing train. Who is this Eddie with the hard, mean eyes and how does he know so much about Pearl? In A Cup of Dust, Pearl stumbles on a mystery that threatens to unravel all she holds dear.

In A Trail of Crumbs, Pearl feels life has returned to some semblance of normal, though she “didn’t make believe anymore” (p. 15). However, tragedy rears its ugly head again; this time, she does not know if her family can find their way back from it in one piece.

Susie Finkbeiner’s “Pearl Spence Novels” are a rich delight to the mind and heart. Experiencing life during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression through the eyes of Pearl lends a fresh, poignant look at some of the darker times in American history. The author’s skillful use of Pearl’s point of view also serves to dull some of the sharpness of the more weighty, gruesome circumstances of the plot. Readers cannot help but fall in love with Pearl’s courageous heart and innocent, yet perceptive understanding of life and the people around her. In the first book, she learns an important lesson that kindness and meanness both have the power to “break a heart”; the difference, however is that kindness softens the heart, while meanness “just made the heart want to be hard” (p. 25). These contrasting truths echo throughout this coming of age journey wrought with trials and loss but anchored in the surety of love, belonging, and never-ending hope.

Justina McBride, CLJ