I’ve read all of Susie Finkbeiner’s Pearl Spence books starting with A Cup of Dust. I’ve loved them all, but I must say my very favorite is A Song of Home. The lyrical writing, the finely drawn characters and the pitch-perfect dialogue are superb. Now eleven years old, Pearl’s voice is strong and genuine. Observant and clever, she’s the perfect narrator for the multifaceted story. Pearl has had to adapt to many changes in her young life, from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma to the relative bounty of Bliss, Michigan. True to her age, she cares deeply about everything from the latest dance steps and the ribbon on her Easter dress to the mystifying actions of the adults around her. Ordinary struggles of growing up are skillfully interwoven with family turmoil and a community simmering with racism. Highly recommended.
UPDATE: We have our winner! Newsletter subscriber J. Kihn has won a copy of A Trail of Crumbs. (J., I’ve sent you an e-mail requesting your mailing address.) Thanks, everyone! Watch for more giveaways and goodies, plus news on the sequel to You’re the Cream in My Coffee and other publishing projects, coming soon. JLL
The circumstances of the Great Depression of the 1930s weren’t pretty, but they sure make for good stories.I’ve just finished reading A Trail of Crumbs by Michigan author Susie Finkbeiner, and found myself very moved by it. Here’s the five-star review I posted on Amazon:
Before launching my Susie Finkbeiner-fandom by reading her earlier book, A Cup of Dust, my knowledge of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl had been pretty much limited to a high-school reading of The Grapes of Wrath. A Cup of Dust made this harrowing period of American history more real for me through the eyes of a young girl, Pearl Spence. (I even interviewed Susie about A Cup of Dust: read the interview here.)
A Trail of Crumbs picks up Pearl’s story where A Cup of Dust leaves off. A heartbreaking tragedy launches Pearl’s family on a journey to live near relatives in 1930s Michigan, where Pearl must adjust to new people and situations, along with the more ordinary challenges of growing up. Susie Finkbeiner’s lyrical descriptions and heartfelt portrayals transported me to an era that seems very different from our own, and yet so similar in some ways. The characters are well drawn and believable, especially Pearl. Through all of her difficulties, there are bright spots, such as her lively Aunt Carrie, and the teacher who introduces her to Frank L. Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I loved seeing how caring adults can have a positive impact in the life of a child through such small but thoughtful gestures, even as other adults make poor and destructive choices.
I’m eager to read much more from Susie Finkbeiner. Find out more about this talented author at susiefinkbeiner.com.
I’ll be giving away one softcover copy of A Trail of Crumbs to someone in the Sparkling Vintage newsletter community! To join, simply enter your e-mail in the sidebar to the right of the blog. If you’re already a subscriber and you’d like to enter the drawing, just let me know in the comments below. I’ll draw the winner at random on Friday, April 7, 2017. 🙂
When I met Susie Finkbeiner at the 2013 ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference, I immediately felt that little “click” that happens when you meet a kindred spirit. (We laughed at each other’s jokes–always a very good sign!) Since then, we’ve grown better acquainted on social media, and I admired her novels, Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile. Now Susie’s brand-new novel is releasing this week! Set in the 1930s, it seemed like a perfect choice to feature here on A Sparkling Vintage Life.
A Cup of Dust tells the story of ten-year-old Pearl as she and her family struggle through hard times during the Dust Bowl. The last thing they need is more trouble, but that’s exactly what they get when a mysterious stranger rolls into town, bent on revenge for something that happened long ago. Join Pearl as she unfolds the mystery that where you come from isn’t who you are.
At the end of the week I’ll be giving away 2 free signed copies of A Cup of Dust…get a chance to win one simply by leaving a comment below or on my Facebook author page. Meanwhile, here’s a chat I had with Susie. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her better, and so will you!
Jennifer: Welcome, Susie. First, the basics. Where are you from and all that good stuff?
Susie Finkbeiner: I live with my husband and three kids in the beauty of West Michigan. We’re close enough to the Big Lake that we often drive over in the summer for a picnic dinner and to watch the sunset. I don’t know that I’d want to live anywhere else.
We don’t have any pets. For now. I’d love a dog, but we don’t have space for all of us in our house, let alone a fuzzy friend. Maybe someday. I believe Christmas might mean fish for the kids. Sigh. We’ll see. For now I count our neighborhood turkeys, squirrels, and skunks as my pets. Not bad for city living.
JLL: Tell us briefly about your writing journey and how you got started as an author.
JLL: How did you get inspired to write A Cup of Dust?
JLL: Why did you choose to set your story in the 1930s?
JLL: Tell us about your research process for A Cup of Dust.
SF: I’ve been researching the Dust Bowl on and off for twenty years. No joke. I read books, watched documentaries, wrote countless short stories set in that era. The first play I ever wrote and produced was set in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Dust Bowl.
JLL: Did writing A Cup of Dust reflect your own life and/or faith journey?
JLL: What 3 people have had the greatest influence on your writing, and why?
JLL: Are there any particular challenges you’re facing in your writing life?
JLL: How do you stay spiritually grounded?
JLL: Yes, he is! Big Peter Leavell fan here, as well. What’s on your music playlist?
JLL: Are there any can’t-miss blogs, podcasts, vlogs, etc., that you’d recommend?
JLL: What do you do for fun?
JLL: What’s the next project coming up from Susie Finkbeiner?
While engrossed in Allison Pittman’s latest novel, On Shifting Sand, I continually found myself heading to the kitchen for a tall, cool glass of water to slake my thirst. Yes, it’s been a dry, hot summer here in Idaho, I told myself, but what gives? Then I realized that the cause of my thirst was Allison’s vivid, you-are-there descriptions of daily life in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
“We feel thirst everywhere,” she writes in protagonist Nola’s viewpoint, “–our parched throats, of course, and the corners of our mouths. It seems, sometimes, that we are drying up from within. Our lungs rasp with every breath, our bones threaten to snap themselves to powder. There is not enough water to drink, to wash, to bathe. We are never quenched. we are never clean.”
Gaaack! Pass the pitcher!
Of course, I’d heard about the Dust Bowl (or Dirty Thirties, as they’re sometimes called). I’d read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath along with millions of other American high-schoolers over the years. But On Shifting Sand gave me my first glimpse in up-close detail what it was like to live through it, day by day. My ancestors experienced the Great Depression in other contexts, but not the dust storms that plagued the Great Plains. No wonder so many “Okies” packed up and left–for most of them, there was literally no other alternative. The storms took away their homes, their livelihoods, and even people they loved.
As I read On Shifting Sand, the descriptions of storms kept me riveted, almost as if the weather was a character unto itself.
This was important, because I found it hard, if not impossible, to warm up to Nola, a pastor’s wife in a small Oklahoma town. While I sympathized with the near-impossibility of keeping a clean and healthy home in the constant dust storms, and to feed her children on practically no income, her constant complaining and chronic dissatisfaction with her lot in life wore on my nerves. When a drifter comes to town and she makes terrible choices to try to make herself feel better . . . well, at that point, many good Christian readers may have closed the book.
And that’s too bad. Because Nola’s story has much to teach us about ourselves.
You see, when we’re not vigilant–and sometimes even when we are–sin comes upon us like those dust storms. It seeps into every crack and crevice of our lives, no matter how hard we try to keep it out, to scrub it away. Only the Living Water, Jesus Christ, has the power to wash it away, quench our thirst and make us clean again.
That, I believe, is the point of the story. Nola grew up in a home without love, and went looking for love in all the wrong places, as the old song goes. To escape an unhappy home life, she made a hasty marriage. (The title hearkens to Jesus’s parable about the foolish man who built his house on sand,
“and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”) Now she’s restless, unhappy, and critical toward her husband, her two children, and the people of her town. When the handsome drifter–an old friend of her husband–comes to her home, her poor choices make everything infinitely worse. (In keeping with Christian publishing standards, we aren’t offered graphic details of what happens–needless to say, the picture’s clear enough.)
Ultimately, On Shifting Sand is a story of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. You may have to slog through some dust and dirt to get there, but it’s worth it.
Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.