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, there are plenty of both, even if half the town stands empty as people have packed up and moved on. Pearl is proud of her loving, strong family, though she often wearies of tracking down her mentally impaired older sister or wrestling with her grandmother’s unshakable belief in a God who Pearl just isn’t sure she likes. Then a mysterious man bent on revenge tramps into her town of Red River. Eddie is dangerous and he seems fixated on Pearl. When he reveals why he’s really there and shares a shocking secret involving the whole town, dust won’t be the only thing darkening Pearl’s world. While the tone is suspenseful and often poignant, the subtle humor of Pearl’s voice keeps A Cup of Dust from becoming heavyhanded. Finkbeiner deftly paints a story of a family unit coming together despite fractures of distress threatening to pull them apart.
Susie Finkbeiner is the CBA bestselling author of The Nature of Small Birds, All Manner of Things — which was selected as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book — and Stories That Bind Us, as well as A Cup of Dust, A Trail of Crumbs, and A Song of Home.
She serves on the Fiction Readers Summit planning committee, volunteers her time at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and speaks at retreats and women’s events across the country. Susie and her husband have three children and live in West Michigan.
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 precocious and endearing voice. She is young, yet possesses a maturity that surpasses her years. Though the harshness of the Dust Bowl has forced Pearl to grow up in many ways, she is still a child, and her outlook matches that. Pearl’s narration brings freshness and balance to the harsh setting better than I could have imagined. Her naivety and moments of deep insight and clarity blend together in such a skillful way.
The historical details are vivid, and Pearl’s memories of before the Dust Bowl bring the current state of affairs into sharp contrast. The struggles of everyday life, whether it’s keeping grit and dust out of your home, eyes and lungs, having enough food to eat, or feeling the constant worry of a sudden dust storm, are all described vividly. The secondary characters are as equally compelling. Pearl’s parents and grandmother are the pillars that hold up the family, yet Pearl is the glue that keeps them all in place. Their interactions together have such a realness and truthfulness to them. I was deeply moved by this family’s resiliency in the face of hard and dangerous times.
The plot held my interest the entire time; some of the chapters reminded me of vignettes, in that they were snap shots of Pearl’s life and the life of her family. Everything was revealed in a way that felt in keeping with the rest of the story, and I had a keen sense of how Pearl spent her days. Though some might feel it was slow moving, I feel that the plot suited the story and the setting. While the action builds slowly, when it does reach its crescendo, the emotion that goes with it is deep and riveting.
The menacing nature of the antagonist never feels cartoonish or unrealistic. It is truly one of those instances where it's a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and Pearl is the only one that sees the wolf. It’s one of those moments that I had to pause for reflection, to really remember that everyone has a reason and rationale for the way they respond to life. In Pearl’s word, people have “scars on their hearts,” and it’s the way one chooses to respond that makes all the difference. Susie did an excellent job creating this malignant character, while allowing the reader to see the reasoning behind it.
I haven’t read any of Susie’s books other than this one, but you can be sure that I will do so in the future. Any continuation of the Spence family story would be bumped to the top of my to-read list. A Cup of Dust was a complete joy to read. Susie did not write a feel good story, but rather created something heartbreaking and beautiful, and true. The ending doesn’t wrap things up neatly in a bow, but still left me with a profound hope. The story gave me a sense of admiration and respect for those who lived through one of history’s worst moments, and a deep appreciation for the real meaning of family and the unwavering, sacrificial love that goes with it. A Cup of Dust is historical fiction at its finest, and I highly recommend it.
A Cup of Dust by Susie Finkbeiner is a coming of age story of 10 yo Pearl Spence, the daughter of the towns sheriff. Living in the depression, dust bowl era of 1930s. Pearl has seen her share of sorrow in her precocious 10 years. The sorrow and despair just keeps coming. Her best friend’s baby sister, then his daddy, and the God tajes her grandmother, too. One night Pearl learns the truth of all. She is then no longer a child and growing up is hard, full of secrets and reality is how we view it as we live through it.
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!
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 the heart want to be hard."
The Dust Bowl, a nearly forgotten period in American history, was brought to vivid life in this novel. Yet the details were woven effortlessly into the story and it never felt even vaguely didactic (as is often the case with historicals).
And the characters. Mercy me. I won't forget them. I loved the grandma/mom/daughter dynamic, watching these strong women enduring more than they ever dreamed. As usual, Finkbeiner handles desperate situations with a light touch, bringing a refreshing hopefulness to the reader. And yet she doesn't turn a blind eye to the harsh realities these people had to face.
I have pondered how to review this book, knowing my words wouldn't be enough to capture the beautiful turns of phrase, the events that seemed so believable, and the characters who moved into my heart. All I can say is that if you read no other book in 2015, read this one.
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 tale of faith, hope, and a reminder that your past does not define your future.
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 and action developed. The ending of the novel was beautifully done.
I recommend this novel for fans of historical fiction.
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!
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.)
The biggest problem with the writing was the point of view. I really (really really) think this would have been a markedly better book if it had been written in third person. There were many insights that the author wanted to convey to the reader that just didn't sound like a 10-year-old girl. Is it plausible for a child to hear about families not wanting to take charity and think "I wondered why they held onto shame like that"? Many similar thoughts in the book sound more like a modern perspective and the young, first-person narrator made that contrast much more noticeable.
Most readers won't be as picky as me. If you enjoy a quick historical novel that you can get caught up in, or if you don't know much about the Dust Bowl and want an easy way to learn a few things, this could be an enjoyable book for you. I did appreciate the way faith was handled. Each character was allowed their own journey and perspective, adding food for thought. Once I pushed through the beginning, the book went pretty quick. It isn't boring and doesn't shy away from some tough topics. This type of book isn't my jam, but it may be yours.
I really enjoyed the way the author made young Pearl Spence come alive. I loved the little girls spunk, curiosity and courage. Even though there were dark realistic parts of the story I felt like they were balanced with the truth that with kindness,love of family and God; hard times can still have joy and light . Looking forward to reading the next book and seeing how Pearl grows and changes.
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 oppressive and grievous.
Detailed and pictorial depictions revealed the enormity of the conditions in that area, where the earth was depleted and the rains never came. The dust ultimately took the lives of many, and caused others an unending fight for life. Pearl and her family exemplify the strength of the human spirit through events I can't imagine. Atrocities invaded Pearl's worst nightmares, as well as the barbarities that affected her youth and innocence.
Character portrayals are described in depth with a familiarity and sensitivity that is tangible. I loved Pearl from the very beginning, and heard her voice throughout this extraordinarily touching novel.
A Cup of Dust is written with passion and eloquence, mature attributes of this young author. I will undoubtedly read it again. It is a novel of epic proportion. Thought provoking and intense, you'll want to slowly absorb Pearl's story. I couldn't begin reading another book until my mind finished processing the intensity of this composition.
FYI: There is some violence depicted in this book that may offend some readers; however, this is reality fiction and without those scenes the story would not be complete.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review. All expressed opinions are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
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 pretty story. But it's a GOOD story.
From the moment we meet 10-year-old Pearl, daughter of the local sheriff, we see everything that happens through her eyes that don't miss a thing. Right alongside her, we learn about Hoovervilles and hoboes and FDR and jackrabbits. And dust. Oh, the dust. We see what people did when they were desperate with no food to feed their babies. How people in desperate straits can treat each other with the height of kindness and the depth of cruelty.
In short, it's a bold depiction of a fallen world in need of a Savior. To be honest, I had to skim over certain parts of the story that were too raw and violent for me to take in. It took me a while to finish it, because I had to keep having to put it down and process what I'd read. But the hard passages seem honest, never gratuitous, and are balanced by occasional lighter moments that keep the story from unrelieved sorrow. And the well-crafted suspense kept drawing me back to find out what was going to happen next.
A Cup of Dust was not a "fun" read, but it's a story that will stick with me for a good long while me and make me think. Once in a while, it's important to take off the rose-colored glasses and understand things for how they really were.
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, smell, taste and sound of a child in the era. I could feel the dust on my tongue many times as I read, could feel my heart race and I desired to get out of my real life so I could return to the book.
That doesn't happen much when I read. Cup of Dust is a book of honesty, of hope, and of appreciation for life. It subtly challenges the reader to think about the characters and their own response to life, people, and what circumstances throw at you. I highly recommend Cup of Dust for a story which challenges, entertains, and leaves you wanting more when it ends.
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 have been much more powerful. I am not sure if I will continue with the series. (I listened to the audiobook via hoopla and I thought the narrator did a great job.)
I had no idea how awful the dust bowl of the 1930s was. Told through the eyes of a little girl, she tells a story of hardship for her family. There is also a mysterious drifter with a secret that terrifies her. Susie Finkbeiner is such a wonderful storyteller and a new favorite author for me!
Well, this was not the same caliber as Grapes of Wrath, but I loved it just the same.
A Cup of Dust is the story, told in first person, of a 10-year-old girl named Pearl, and of her family during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma.
Pearl's father was the sheriff, so they weren't nearly as poor as all the families who could no longer grow their own food nor rely on the starving livestock for milk or even meat. People were starving and living in shanty towns, hoping for government assistance.
Pearl's grandmother lived with them. She was a wise woman of faith who seemed to see things clearly, and encouraged and strengthened them. Pearl's older sister is clearly a special needs girl, but Pearl is very good to her and doesn't treat her as anything other than a beloved member of her home. She's not ashamed of her as often siblings can be.
Then there were two people who entered Pearl's life, and at first there seems to be no reason for it. One was seemingly a hobo who, for some reason, knows who she is. She's afraid of him, and with good reason. He's evil.
The other one is a woman who lives in a cat house. Pearl doesn't know what that is, and her mother orders her to have nothing to do with her, but for some reason Pearl feels something for her.
This story is full of love, sharing, conflict, secrets and revelation. It will surprise you, sadden you, and warm you to your core.
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 dust; the way of life that was as it was, and how people tended to mind their own business even as abuses took place and refused to take charity as it shamed them. I appreciated how the author incorporated fascinating facts during that time and I still find it amazing how those peopled lived with all the dirt and dust storms.
I quickly became very fond of this family and as certain mysteries are revealed to Pearl, I liked watching her childlike comparisons of what a true family is. Daddy and Mama are characters that I enjoyed reading about especially their love and generosity that they showed to all of their neighbors throughout the novel. I valued that the author stayed true to the thinking and prejudices of the day making the story more authentic.
The childlike faith that Pearl had in Jesus was especially poignant as well as her love of fairy tales. This was an intelligent and thoughtful read and I look forward to reading more by author Finkbeiner.
I received a copy of this book for free through Bookfun, Inc. I was not required to post a positive review and the views and opinions expressed are my own.
What a great introduction into the work of Susie Finkbeiner's...
What a great introduction into author Susie Finkbeiner's art of storytelling. I confess I don't know much about this period in history regarding the great dust bowl, but after reading this I am compelled to learn more. I am also looking forward to the next installment in the Pearl Spence series. The author gave real life to her characters and built a strong story around them that feels representative of this time and place in history. I started out reading the e-book version and was hooked within a few paragraphs. I switched to the audio version .... But honestly the written word is a much better experience. The narrator on the audio version, in my opinion, used too much drama, whimpering, simpering, whining, and other affectations in the voices of the characters. Instead of creating a more realistic experience, it became more of a distraction. I will read, rather than listen to, the rest of the series.
Set in Red River, Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, our protagonist, Pearl, is a spunky ten-year-old who loves her family. And they love her right back—her adoring parents, Meemaw, and her older sister, Beanie Jean, whose “brain doesn’t quite work right”. Pearl’s imagination (like Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables) keeps her mighty busy in a town choking beneath a thick layer of never-ending dust. In addition to church-going and school-attending, there are things for Pearl to ponder—like the woman who lives in a “cat house” and the mysterious drifter who shows up in town, somehow knowing Pearl’s name.
Life takes a turn.
Pearl learns things aren’t always as they seem.
The story is charming, suspenseful, filled with both hope and despair, hatred and forgiveness. The largest twists are a bit predictable, but if you enjoy coming-of-age / historical fiction, you will enjoy this first in a three-part series. Fans of The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, the similarities are uncanny at times.
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 Depression, after a decade and a half of studying it before she even got the idea to write the novel. The characters are well drawn and the story arc is also well done.
This book turned out to be something completely different than what I had hoped for. I thought this book was going to be about a family and community struggling through the Dust Bowl era; but that is just not what I read. The Dust Bowl is very little of the actual story; it's just the background touched upon every now and then. This read was full of lies, deception and murder. This book was so full of Eddie that I was just plum sick of him and he turned into the focal point and what a shame that was. Pearl is such a unique character and I enjoyed her voice very much and Beanie deserved to be called Violet and not that awful nickname the author gave her. I new what the revealing was going to be early on. I just felt an opportunity to write about something great was lost in this twisted mess. There were times when I felt like I was reading a modern secular drama and it was disappointing at times. The author is extremely talented with writing I just didn't care for the story-line.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
"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 mentally challenged sister, Pearl sees the world through a cloud of dust that continually swirls, but eventually settles. It's when a blue-eyed, wretched, hobo of a man comes to town that everything changes. He knows Pearl's name and asks her strange questions like, " . . .Does it ever feel like you're somewhere you don't belong?" And, "Do you ever get the feeling that you ain't who you always thought you were?"
" A Cup of Dust" is a story filled a tempest of triumphs and defeats, tempered with stout determination and compassion, creatively displayed in the life story of a ten year old little girl, Pearl Spence, who loves fiercely and is loved unconditionally.
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 bowl as if she was the Spence's neighbor. There are fantastic moments of tension where I wanted to badly to skip ahead and find out if everything would be alright, but the story engrossed me enough to keep me flipping the pages. The story was absorbing. Finkbeiner's work keeps topping itself and A Cup of Dust is spectacular. I would highly recommend this novel to fans of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird or anyone looking to be swept away in a fast-paced and thoughtful read.
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!
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!!
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, sorrow, loss, desperation and hope. I will probably never read it again, but I made it through, and I'm thankful Pearl and Beanie are a part of me now, as heartbreaking as it was to learn about them. ❤
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!
For anyone that knows me well enough,they know that I love historical fiction and have a slight obsession with the dust bowl. The story of Pearl growing up during this time period and all the challenges she faced was bitter sweet. To know that many lives through this horrible time, but Pearls character showed perseverance and faith.