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From the Bookshelf: Susie Finkbeiner’s Pearl Spence Stories

One of my favorite things about reading good books is sharing them with others. A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs by Susie Finkbeiner are works of fiction I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Author Susie Finkbeiner

Susie, an author from West Michigan, has a way with words, to say the least. I’ve read all four of her novels: My Mother’s Chamomile, Paint Chips, A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs. The first two are contemporary novels. A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs are two in a trilogy featuring the young protagonist Pearl Spence. The third book in the Pearl Spence trilogy, A Song of Home, will be released in February 2017. A Cup of Dust is a moving tale set in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl era. A Trail of Crumbs continues Pearl’s story as an unthinkable tragedy strikes her family, causing them to leave their home and move to Michigan. There, Pearl’s father hopes to find find work and make a new home for his family during the early years of The Great Depression. I’m featuring both of the Pearl Spence books because…….well, you’ll want to read both of them!

In my assessment, a good story allows you to inhabit another world, to feel the emotions and action as if they were your own. Through 10-year-old Pearl’s eyes, we are transported to an era and welcomed into a family with real challenges. I was grabbing tissues 10 pages into A Trail of Crumbs. The hardships experienced by Americans living in the dust bowl of the west and the depression of the 1930s are given skin in Susie’s books, without sappy sentimentality but with gritty reality. By the end of A Trail of Crumbs, the impact of her family’s hardships show in the maturity we see and hear in Pearl.

The author considers her novels inspirational fiction. There is a definite thread of hopefulness based on Pearl’s growing faith in A Trail of Crumbs. Wise words from Pearl:

“Some of the best things we do ain’t remembered by anybody but God.”

Both Pearl Spence books include a collection of questions for reading groups at the back. They serve to enhance the reading of her wonderful tales.

I’ve asked Susie to respond to a couple of my own questions about the first two books in the Pearl Spence trilogy:

1. You mention in your Afterword that the story of Pearl’s years on the farm near Bliss, Michigan recaptures part of your childhood. Was it always your intent to have Pearl escape the Dust Bowl by moving to Michigan? And is Pearl in any way modeled after yourself as a child, or perhaps a family member?
I knew that I couldn’t keep Pearl and her family in the Dust Bowl regions for more than one book. It seemed I’d exhausted the Oklahoma part of the story and knew she needed some different scenery to continue her story. Bliss, Michigan became the town they moved to, modeled after Blissfield, a real town in southeast Michigan where my grandma grew up.  You know, Pearl is a little bit of me and a little bit of who I imagine my Grandma Pearl was as a child. But most of all, Pearl has become her own person. She grew as I wrote her, maturing and surprising me so many times along the way. She’s a very special character to me. I already miss writing her.

2. Your treatment of religion and Biblical truth is handled delicately, not forced on the reader, but a definite thread in your stories. I know you read a lot. What author has given you the best example for writing a faith-based story that appeals to everyone?

Thank you for saying that. I work hard to keep a light hand when writing, especially when my Christian worldview comes into the narrative.  You know, this may come as a surprise, but I learned how to weave Biblical themes into a novel by reading Steinbeck. The man knew his Bible and added threads of it throughout his stories. East of Eden is the perfect example of this. Now, I can’t speak to Steinbeck’s spirituality (in fact, I believe he was more of a humanist than anything), but he never apologized for working a little theology or a Bible story into his fiction.

3. Who do you hope will read the Pearl series? Your books are not classified as young adult, but how have young adult readers responded to the stories?

I’ve been surprised at all the various folks who have picked up Pearl’s story! My readers range from thirty-something stay at home moms to eighty something retirees. From ministers to guys who work with my husband. This range of readers is more than I ever could have hoped or imagined and I’m beyond grateful! A few young adults have read it. I only know because their mothers have told me. I haven’t been able to get much feedback from them so far. I’d love to sit down with a few young readers to get an idea of what they thought.

I’m delighted to offer a paperback edition of A Trail of Crumbs to a reader chosen from comments left here. Currently, both A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs are available as Kindle downloads at bargain prices.

 

 

 

Just a note: My Springtime gift to you is book recommendations! I’ve been reading a lot over the winter and there are several wonderful titles I’d love to highlight (and a few to drop in your lap). Susie’s novels are the first two. Look for more in the coming weeks. ~ Ingrid