A Fine White Dust

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by Rylant, Cynthia. (Bradbury, 1986 ISBN 0440424992. Hardcover, Paperback, Cassette.) Novel. 120 pages. Grades 5+.
This book was reviewed by Carol Otis Hurst in Teaching K-8 Magazine.
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Review

cover art

The visit of the traveling Preacher Man to his small North Carolina town gives new impetus to 13 year old Peter Cassidy's struggle to reconcile his own deeply felt religious beliefs with the different beliefs and non-beliefs of his family and friends. We hear the story from Peter's point of view. He tells us of the hard lessons he has learned, among others: "If somebody loves you, it's because he wants to. And it's never because it's what he's supposed to do." Peter's parents do not attend church but Peter does. There he falls under the spell of a revivalist preacher. Peter plans to run away with the Preacher Man (James W. Carson), leaving behind his parents and his best friend Rufus, accepting his invitation to be a kind of apprentice/helper when the preacher leaves town. Having written a farewell note to his parents, he leaves home and waits for the Preacher Man at a prearranged location. Rufus, a confirmed atheist, had followed Peter and , hidden from him, waits in the bushes. He gets the devastated Peter home when the preacher doesn't show up, having run away instead with Darlene, the young woman from the drugstore. The idea of a corrupt or at least unreliable preacher is not new to literature although there are not many novels for young adults that deal with the subject. Biblically knowledgeable students may be able to see the allusions in the first twelve chapter names and most will understand the final chapter's "Amen". The title comes from the crumbled ceramic cross and its fine white dust that lies there. The symbolism is obvious and students should be able to see it. This simply told story is not about faith that fails, however. Peter knows that it is the idealized preacher that has failed him, not God. The book is about what a hero is and how to choose a good one, how to be different from your parents and how to work out your own value system.

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