A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl

Written by Susie Finkbeiner
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

Precocious Pearl Spence is the narrator of this enjoyable novel set in the harsh Oklahoma prairies in 1934, an area that was susceptible to the kind of dust storms that could blind an entire community and wreak havoc on its residents.

Pearl’s father is the town sheriff, and while her family is not wealthy, their economic situation is a bit better than most of the other residents in Red Oak. Pearl is a curious child, and a strong-willed, outspoken one. Pearl’s older sister, Beanie, is “not right,” though Pearl is not exactly sure what is wrong with her. In addition to her parents, Pearl’s “Meemaw” lives with the family: a woman who has a rock solid belief in God. But Pearl isn’t so sure; she thinks that perhaps both God and President Roosevelt have forgotten about Oklahoma. A mysterious stranger named Eddie comes to town and seems to show up everywhere. He also seems to know a lot about Pearl. Pearl has a bad feeling about him but cannot convince her parents that he has ulterior motives.

Although the story could have taken place in Anytown, USA during the Depression era, as most families experienced similar hardships, I loved the setting of the Dust Bowl, as it provides an evocative framework for a hardscrabble life. Pearl is a terrific narrator with a magnetic personality. The book is suspenseful and gritty with true-to-life characters. It is about hope, family, survival and faith. The writing is stellar, the storyline engaging. It’s a book that deserves a front and center place on any shelf that is filled with inspirational historical fiction.