Life Without Summer
by Lynne Griffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Life Without Summer / 0-312-38388-6
In "Life without Summer", author Griffin has managed to convey the incredibly painful details of a child's death, a mother's mourning, and a family's quest for answers in a manner that is equal parts sensitive, tender, suspenseful, and gripping. "Life without Summer" starts with Tessa, a grieving mother who has lost her only daughter in a hit-and-run accident. Tessa is shutting down emotionally, becoming distant from her husband, and is obsessed with finding answers. She seeks counseling from Celia, a straight-laced psychiatrist with a hidden past. The narrative switches at each chapter from Tessa to Celia and back again, with each woman pouring her heart out to the reader.
I will admit - I almost stopped reading "Life without Summer" after the first few dozen pages. Celia, who initially seems to be an author insert, flat out frustrated me with what I interpreted as irrationally bad behavior towards her new husband, Alden, and her seemingly terribly spoiled teenage son. I was deeply irked that Celia would be insensitive enough to alienate her new husband by delivering groceries to her ex-husband, and I felt that it was incredibly unreasonable to ask the reader to accept that Alden is a bad person for taking offense at these unfair slights. I stuck with the book for Tessa's sake, only to realize deeper into the story that - far from being an author insert - Celia is an openly flawed character, a foil to Tessa's sorrow and loss, and a prescription for how Tessa should *not* deal with her loss. There is more to Alden, too, than meets the eye, as the story unfolds further, and I was so glad that I stuck with the reading and didn't give up.
Although this is a tale of loss and grieving, it is also one of suspense as Tessa enlists the aid of local law enforcement, media, and legal help in order to track down her daughter's killer and find an answer, if not peace. Griffin is skilled at presenting plausible suspects, each with very real and personal consequences for Celia, threatening to cause her private and professional lives to collide destructively. And while Griffin obviously sympathizes with Tessa and her loss, she nevertheless walks the very fine line of emphasizing that Tessa's husband is grieving deeply, too - and that the fact that he grieves differently does not mean that he grieves any less.
For sheer realism of emotion, this is one of the best novels I've ever read. Griffin maintains a careful juggling act throughout the novel, handling volatile emotions without ever overwhelming the reader. Despite the heaviness of the plot, the reading is somehow light and easy, making this 300+ page novel a faster read than one would guess, and defying attempts to set the book down. If you can stick past the initial problems with Celia and her family, before the reader is allowed to realize that there is more than meets the eye, then you will enjoy this book immensely, as I did.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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