If you’re like me, you prefer unique non-formulaic fiction. I hoped for this when I jumped at the chance to review A Trail of Crumbs by Susie Finkbeiner for Kregel Publishing. The book description and the setting caught me. When you read a Depression-era story that begins in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, you’re not going to get the norm.
I was not disappointed.
The story is told from the first-person perspective of Pearl Spence, a ten year old girl, and from the opening pages it is apparent that she has already lived a hard and tragic life. This coming-of-age story is the sequel to A Cup of Dust, a book I must now read to ferret out more details about Pearl’s tragedies.
The author does an amazing job getting inside the head of her young protagonist, narrating her life events exactly as a ten year old would perceive them. When unspeakable acts occur, there are no words. When past tragedies haunt her daily activities, they are alluded to with the avoidance, confusion, and missing pieces a young girl would experience. Yet you, the reader, know.
The author’s vivid descriptions of Dust Bowl Oklahoma, where the story begins, are the best I have ever read. When a dust storm overwhelms the populace, filling their homes and lungs with dirt and striking down characters we love, you understand why people gathered up their families and fled the state. The characterization of the social norms, church style of the Great Depression, small town expectations, and backstories of the characters drew me in. I rooted for them. I wanted things to go well for Pearl.
But remember, this is not a formulaic story. You will not get a happily ever after. Instead, you will come away understanding what happens to people when there is financial lack, loss of family social structure, unspeakable acts committed against children, and natural disaster. When all of these combine, as they often do on our messy planet, everything falls apart at once. And yet, Jesus is there. This is a Christian story written with a light, gracious, and hope-filled hand, illuminating Pearl’s childlike faith.
Having lived through many of the things Pearl and her family have experienced and as a native Oklahoman, the story resonated with me. I applauded Pearl’s strength, her tenacity, and her feisty character. This type of literature gives a necessary view of what is surely the norm in our world. This isn’t Eden, after all, and all of humankind experiences tragedy. If you want to enlarge your capacity for compassion, this story will do it. And, at the same time, you’ll encounter a young heroine who will inspire you to keep going no matter what, even if you must chop off your hair and wear boys’ pants to do so. I’ll never forget this story.
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