Tuesday, April 26, 2011

REVIEW: Season of Water and Ice, by Donald Lystra

Season of Water and Ice, by Donald Lystra. Published 2009 by Northern Illinois University Press.

Donald Lystra's debut novel, Season of Water and Ice, is a coming-of-age story set in the woods of northern Michigan in the late 1950s; 15 year old Danny DeWitt lives with his father, an unsuccessful salesman, in a cabin. His mother has left them for Chicago after her husband's failure to make a comfortable life for the family, and Danny befriends Amber, an older pregnant teen who's been ostracized by her family and the larger community. She wants to be an artist and raise her baby but faces unyielding pressure to either give the baby away or marry her unborn child's father, Wayne, who doesn't seem like a very good catch.

Lystra tells the story from Danny's point of view. We see his deteriorating relationship with his father, a well-meaning man who just can't seem to make a go of life, and his growing relationship with Amber, who struggles to find her own way. Danny also struggles with a difficult, painful relationship with his mother, a distant and elusive figure whose motives remain cloudy.  The story comes to a head late in the novel during a brutal snowstorm when Danny and Amber are trapped in a cabin after a car crash. The novel winds down quickly from here with a tragedy that nonetheless seems to have few consequences for the characters.

I was not crazy about this book. I found Danny to be whiny and dull; his father was kind of useless and ineffectual, a weak man who never finds his stride. I hated the ending, and I didn't like the way Lystra handles the female characters generally. The four women in the book are all striking characters but none are particularly strong. Amber's mother is a horror of a parent who all but abandons her daughter; Danny's mother is an enigma, and an unsympathetic one at that; his father's erstwhile girlfriend seems like a predator and a tramp, and Amber herself is just plain lost. I like Amber the best of all the characters and I really dislike the ending Lystra gives her, backing her into a corner with no way out. She deserves better.

So, yeah, this one's not one I really can recommend very highly. Danny isn't a particularly charismatic character and he seems unable to process a lot of what goes on around him, which doesn't make for engaging reading. And that ending could have been a lot better, too. If you're a dedicated reader of coming of age books you might like it and it might have some young-adult crossover appeal but the book has a great deal of adult content that you may or may not find appropriate for the teen in your life. It's not that it's a bad book, but I've read a lot of really excellent coming of age books in the last year or so and this one just struck me as average at best.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publicist.


bermudaonion said...

Thanks for your review - I think I'll skip this one.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I do lose my patience with weak female characters. At least TRY to show a little personal growth! I have grown a bit weary of dysfunctional family stories myself. I might change my mind in a few weeks, but I feel this is such an old story.

Zibilee said...

Oh, it does sound like there are a lot of snags in this book, and though I do enjoy coming of age stories, this is not something that I think I will be reading. Thanks for your always honest approach in this review. I am sorry to hear that it wasn't quite what you were expecting.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your honest opinion. As always, it is one reason I admire you.