Title: A Watershed Year
Author: Susan Schoenberger
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from publisher for TLC Book Tours
First line: The tawdry mermaid painted on the inside of Harlan’s front door wore a bikini top made of undersized clam shells.
watershed: a crucial dividing point, line, or factor
Two months after his death, Lucy is grieving from the loss of her best friend, Harlan, and also mourning the lost opportunity to tell him she was in love with him. She has spent the past year nursing him through his treatment, and is now wondering what’s next for her. An e-mail arrives from Harlan, and thus begins her watershed year. Harlan has arranged for e-mails to be delivered to her once a month, and buoyed by this contact with her dead friend, Lucy begins to take steps to move forward with her life. A comment from Harlan prompts her to look into adoption, and Lucy embarks on a journey toward motherhood.
I have a confession to make. When I received my review copy of A Watershed Year and saw that it was published by Guideposts, I heaved a sigh. I made some broad assumptions about the book based on the publisher, even though I don’t think I’ve ever read a book published by Guideposts in my life! My preconceptions were based on the Guideposts magazine, which my mother used to receive. I assumed that this book would be overly sentimental and schmaltzy, a self-help, positive-thinking book wrapped in a fiction storyline.
With my tour date looming in only ten days, however, I knew I had no choice but to dive right in. I quickly discovered that my assumptions were way off base. A Watershed Year is sentimental, in the sense that any book dealing with grief, loss, adoption, and motherhood would be – but the sentiment is authentic and nuanced, not broad and simplistic.
Lucy is a college professor; her specialty is studying the lives of the saints. In her own words, she is a “scholar of useless information, unmarried thirty-something, failed vegetarian, pseudo-Catholic.” I loved her way of looking at the world, the little snippets of saintly anecdotes that pepper the pages, her relationship with her parents. She begins the adoption process in a way no responsible, thinking person would pursue, and, in spite of many warning signs from the adoption agent, Yulia, continues to move forward to adopt a little boy from Russia. The result is in turns heartbreaking and hilarious, as Lucy learns what it means to be a mother.
This wasn’t a particularly unpredictable novel – I wasn’t surprised by the way it ended – but that doesn’t bother me in a book in which the writing is wonderful and I love the characters. It ended just the way it should have, and in one particular element of the story (don’t want to give anything away), I was pleasantly surprised that the author made the choice she did.
Bottom line: the quality of writing and the character Lucy take what could have been fairly standard women’s fiction and elevate it to something very special. I devoured this book in three days – and will be waiting expectantly to see what other characters and stories Susan Schoenberger will bring the book world in the future.