I remember hearing about the Dust Bowl in U.S. History class. I may have even read a novel or two about it. But Finkbeiner brings it alive like I've never seen before.
The story is mostly told through the eyes of ten year old Pearl. Her daddy is the sheriff of Red River, Oklahoma. It's 1934 and the dust blows through the dying town. Some have stayed, trying to make a living. The poor ones live in dugouts outside of town.
I really liked seeing the world through Pearl's eyes. There are serious events that take place in the novel. It is a devastating time for many and some do desperate acts. Tragedy is frequent. Hobos and poor families stop in the area, on their way to find a promised new life in California. One of them is a man with a deadly agenda.
And we see it all through the innocent eyes of Pearl. Even as her parents try to shelter her from the difficult events of the time, she comes to be at the center of a revenge that would affect her whole family. I held my breath as it looked like Pearl's world would fall apart and be changed forever.
I liked Pearl's family. With an employed father, they have more money than most in the town. It was heartening to see her mother's giving heart toward those less fortunate. It was heartbreaking to see those who so desperately needed her gifts.
A main issue that comes through in the novel is that of parenthood. Who is your real parent, the one who birthed you or the one who cared for you your whole life? Another issue is the one of nature verses nurture. Does your DNA prescribe who you are or the environment in which you were raised?
Another issue revolves around God, sin and judgment. The preacher claimed the lack of rain was God's judgment on the people's sin. That brought back memories of prominent preachers who claimed the same about hurricane Katrina's devastation on New Orleans.
A prominent theme running through the story is the idea of one sacrificing a great deal for the life of another. While the action in the novel was on a human level, I couldn't help but think of how Jesus sacrificed so much so we could live. The price Pearl's parents were willing to pay for her life and well being because of their love for her is a good illustration of our Father's love for us.
I highly recommend this novel. It's not easy to read. Oh, it's very well written. It is just that the subject matter portrays desperate people living through a very hard time. Finkbeiner has done an excellent job of taking us right into their tragic world. There is a good discussion guide to help reading groups work through the many issues in this good novel.
In an Afterword, Finkbeiner says at the age of sixteen, she read The Grapes of Wrath. She felt compelled to learn more about the Dust Bowl. For nineteen years she found out all she could about this period in history, writing short stories, leading discussions. This novel is the culmination of her work. The end of the story is left open and I hope there is a sequel.
My rating: 5/5 stars.
Susie Finkbeiner is a stay-at-home mom, speaker, the author of two previous novels and is from West Michigan. She is an avid blogger at https://susiefinkbeiner.wordpress.com/.
Kregel Publications, 320 pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.