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A Cup of Dust: a Novel of the Dust Bowl (Pearl Spence #1)
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A Cup of Dust: a Novel of the Dust Bowl

(Pearl Spence #1)

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  704 ratings  ·  180 reviews
Where you come from isn’t who you are
Ten-year-old Pearl Spence is a daydreamer, playing make-believe to escape life in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl in 1935. The Spences have their share of misfortune, but as the sheriff’s family, they’ve got more than most in this dry, desolate place. They’re who the town turns to when there’s a crisis or a need—and during these desperate times,
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 27th 2015 by Kregel Publications
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Average rating 4.26  · 
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 ·  704 ratings  ·  180 reviews

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"I learned that kindness could break a heart just as sure as meanness. The difference was . . . kindness made that broken heart softer. Meanness just made the heart want to be hard."

I absolutely LOVED this book and little spitfire Pearl! She was tenacious, courageous, tender yet tough, innocence yet wise beyond what most adolescents are today - due to the harsh climate and poverty of the dust bowl shrouded plains in western Oklahoma during the early thirties and the volatility that went with it.
A Cup of Dust is easily one of my favorite reads of 2016 so far. I’m confident it will remain on my favorites list through year’s end and beyond. I found so many things to love about this coming-of-age story. Susie strikes the perfect balance between the grim reality that the Spence family faced during the Dust Bowl, and the hope that they could still find within each other and a better future.

The first-person narration feels nearly perfect. I was immediately captured by Pearl Spence’s
Jocelyn Green
Apr 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Riveting. An achingly beautiful tale told with a singularly fresh and original voice. This sepia-toned story swept me into the Dust Bowl and brought me face to face with both haunting trials and the resilient people who overcame them. Absolutely mesmerizing. Susie Finkbeiner is an author to watch!
Heather Gilbert
Jul 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2015-reads
This novel blew me away on so many levels. I would go so far as to call it a modern classic. Finkbeiner perfectly captures her ten-year-old narrator's voice--so much so, it was very reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird. Pearl Spence has that perfect blend of naivety mixed with flashes of deep insight, as evidenced by this quote: "That was when I learned that kindness could break a heart just as sure as meanness. The difference was the kindness made that broken heart softer. Meanness just made ...more
Apr 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Finbeiner weaves a heartfelt, page-turning, coming of age tale set during the desperate times of the dust bowl in a small town in Oklahoma. I could practically taste and feel the dust in my mouth while reading. Her vivid descriptions put me in the place, and the mystery kept me guessing and turning the pages until the very end. In her typical storytelling fashion, Finkbeiner isn't afraid to deal with the hard issues in life, yet she always does so with grace and hope. A Cup of Dust is a riveting ...more
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
It took me a while to fully appreciate this Dust Bowl novel. In the beginning, it was clear what facts were going to surface about Pearl. Pearl is an easy character to adore with her tomboy traits and soft heart. The author paints a clear and bleak picture of life in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. The descriptions were wonderful. Despite all of those positives, I just wasn't fully drawn to the story.

I become fully engrossed in the novel at around 75% into it. At that point, a bit more mystery
Beautiful story. Loved the spunky heroine and the loving parents, who stand up to evil to claim her. Too many pages keep me fearful over who would live & who would die. Satisfying ending. A real hope in the midst of hardship story. Great read!
Janyre Tromp
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A gorgeous coming of age story. I love that nothing and no one is clear-cut. Susie Finkbeiner's writing is full without artifice, I could feel the weight of the dust right along with the characters.

A Cup of Dust is full of real life, but resplendent with the real meaning of family and ultimately, hard-won hope.
I I absolutely loved this book. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and coming-of-age novels.
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Without a doubt, A Cup of Dust is one of the most captivating and impressive reality-based novels I have read to date. This is a story to be absorbed. Pearl's journey is thought-provoking and gripping, a heartrending and emotional journey through oppressive conditions caused by relentless, merciless dust. The author has researched her topic thoroughly, and weaves a haunting tale of Pearl's youth and the atrocities that she witnessed and experienced. The realities of the Oklahoma's Dust Bowl were ...more
Jennifer Leo
Sep 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As a lover of history, I tend to have a rosy-tinted vision of life in the past. I get fatigued by modern twenty-first-century problems and enjoy reading fiction that takes me back to what seems like a gentler era. Anyone who knows me, knows that I like a pretty story.

A Cup of Dust is not what you'd call a pretty story. Set in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, it depicts in lyrical prose and excruciating detail the hardships of that time and that place. So, no, it's not a
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Someday you might learn that life isn't what you always thought it was. You'll learn how hard truth can hurt."

The folks in Red River, Oklahoma were barely surviving what we now refer to as the "Dust Bowl" years. Pearl Spence and her family were no exception, except that her father's small salary as the town sheriff put food on their table, and thanks to her mother's generosity, also put food on the table of many others in the dying town.

Living with her parents, her grandmother, and her
Brenda Yoder
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm a hard sell for historical fiction. I'm a history teacher, passionate about the Dust Bowl/Depression, and usually read primary accounts of historical events. But Susie had me hooked in the first page of the book. Susie's writing is extraordinary. The voice she gives Pearl, the primary character, a child, is one which echoes my own childhood head. The descriptions she writes has the reader right in the story, viewing the Dust Bowl, relationships, and traumatic events through the eyes, ears, ...more
Apr 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A Cup of Dust is not really my normal read. I am much more of a romance reader so reading through the eyes of a ten year old girl was different for me. However, it was a read that captured my full attention and pulled me into the pages of the book. In the middle of the dust bowl, Pearl lives with her Daddy, the sheriff, her Mama, older sister Beanie (who has some mental disabilities), and her Meemaw. As Pearl lives her life with her family, we see how the town has been decimated with all the ...more
Oct 06, 2019 rated it liked it
I am glad that I enjoyed the writing of this story. I feel confident that I could read another Finkbeiner novel and really love it. This story, however, was not amazing. I liked the Spence family and especially Pearl’s narration. I just found the drama of the plot to be way too much. Something terrible happened almost every chapter to the point where I just didn’t really care anymore. I think about 50% of the major episodes could have been removed from the story and the impact of the book would ...more
4.25 stars

Life is hard enough living in the dust bowl of Oklahoma in 1934, but Pearl also has to look out for her older sister, Beanie, whose brain doesn't work right and also begins to be frightened when a hobo she has never seen before steps off a train and greets her by name. How does he know her name and why does he know things about her? Soon the storm within her equals the dust storms without.

This is a well written and brilliantly researched novel--Finkbeiner is arguably an expert on the
Nora St Laurent
Feb 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
This writer transports readers back to the Great Depression; showing the hazards and hardships of a hopeful community fighting the dust bowl. The story is a haunting tale written in first person through the eyes of an adorable 10 year old girl named Pearl Spence who instantly stole my heart. I felt for her situation and appreciated her outlook on things. Pearl is compassionate, feisty and has wisdom beyond her years. She has a big sister that walked to the beat of her own drum. Pearl says, “ ...more
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: arc, 2015
Being someone who prefers writing quality to plot any day of the week, it's safe to say that I am the wrong audience for this book. A lot of the descriptions and turns of phrase were awkward and the characters were rather thin, making it difficult for me to become invested in the plot. There were many times a sentence would throw me off and I'd have to stop and refocus. ("The broom stopped scratching." ...What-and how-was the broom scratching? Oh wait, it was making a scratching sound. Check.)

Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
I read this book after reading East of Eden for the first time. After reading such a masterpiece, I was afraid my next read would fall flat, but A Cup of Dust certainly delivers.
Pearl Spence is believable and endearing narrator. The way Finkbeiner plays with irony through the limitations of Pearl's child perspective is done well. The setting was rich without distracting from the story, which I find can be a risk for historical fiction. The author describes the terrain and struggles of the dust
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Every once in a while, a novel so captures what historical fiction is supposed to be, a book must go on the 'must read' list of every person. A snapshot of what it was like to live in the past is exactly what 'A Cup of Dust' is. For all the bad, for all the difficulties of the 1930's in America, some beauty can arise. Finkbeiner's novel is a spellbinding as it is educational, as captivating as it is insightful. Well written, well told, this is a fantastic book!
Abby Breuklander
Nov 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is hands down one of the best books that I have ever read!! I was hooked from page 1 all the way until the end! I'm so glad to have learned so much about an era and it's people who overcame so much hardship. Their faith, strength and determination are so inspiring. Now I'm hoping this will become a movie!!
Valerie Fitzpatrick
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was difficult for me to begin. Up until yesterday, I didn't understand about the dust bowl, and I have not read Steinbeck. Historical is not my favorite form of fiction; I much prefer being whisked away into fantastical lands with heroes and legends. I read fiction to escape reality, so this book was also difficult for me to finish!

So, with all that said, I couldn't help but love the Spence family, and feel their pain and joy as my own. This was a well written story of undeniable love,
Vicky Sluiter
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Author Susie Finkbeiner is a master story teller. You can tell the Dust Bowl era was deeply researched and the facts are real. Her book, while not easy and pleasant, portrays a difficult time in history very realistically. It was hard. People died. But throughout A Cup of Dust, we see young Pearl searching for a God who is there, and cares. Love and hope are a constant thread. I highly recommend this book!
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Amazing main character and great story-telling. Awesome narrator.
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
Susie Finkbeiner’s lyrical, literary voice is like music to my ears.
Kathleen (Kat) Smith
I think as an adult I appreciate history more now that when I was in school. Perhaps it's because I realize that the things that happened in our past are not simply stories in a history book but truly impacted the lives of the people who had to endure them. Yet when we look back into our history books, very little was written about the Dust Bowl. We know how it came to be but not really how it impacted all those families who had to sit back and hope that things would change somehow and their ...more
Victor Gentile
Nov 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Susie Finkbeiner in her new book, “A Cup Of Dust” published by Kregel Publications gives us a Novel of the Dust Bowl.

From the back cover: Where you come from isn’t who you are

Ten-year-old Pearl Spence is a daydreamer, playing make-believe to escape life in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl in 1935. The Spences have their share of misfortune, but as the sheriff’s family, they’ve got more than most in this dry, desolate place. They’re who the town turns to when there’s a crisis or a need―and during these
Beckie Burnham
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Susie Finkbeiner has been a long time student of the Depression-era history of the Dust Bowl, an ecological and economic disaster that decimated the Great Plains. Her passion for the subject is manifested in her poignant novel, A Cup of Dust. This literary gem is a highly recommended read!

The year is 1934 and the setting is Red River, Oklahoma, a panhandle town that is slowly fading off the map. Ten year old Pearl Spence tells the story of her family and town as they struggle to survive amidst
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Susie Finkbeiner is the author of All Manner of Things as well as the CBA bestselling Pearl Spence series.

When she’s not writing or traveling to speak at retreats or conferences, Susie enjoys lunch dates with her husband, reading with her kids, and drinking coffee with good friends.

Other books in the series

Pearl Spence (3 books)
  • A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (Pearl Spence #2)
  • A Song of Home: A Novel of the Swing Era (Pearl Spence #3)
“That was when I learned that kindness could break a heart just as sure as meanness. The difference was the kindness made that broken heart softer. Meanness just made the heart want to be hard.” 6 likes
“The world was full of awful people who did terrible and ugly things. Most of them were only awful because of the scars on their hearts.” 5 likes
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