A Cup of Dust

A Cup of DustA Cup of Dust by Susie Finkbeiner
Genres: Historical
Published by Kregel on October 27, 2015
Pages: 320


About A Cup of Dust (from the backcover):

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.

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.

I was immediately captured by Pearl Spence’s precocious and endearing voice.

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.

While the action builds slowly, when it does reach its crescendo, the emotion that goes with it is deep and riveting.

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 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.

Susie did not write a feel good story, but rather created something heartbreaking and beautiful, and true.

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.

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