Book Review: A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger

Title: A Watershed Year
Author: Susan Schoenberger
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Guideposts
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.


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26 Responses to Book Review: A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger

  1. Beth Hoffman says:

    I’ve had this book on my list for a while and I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Terrific review, Carrie!

  2. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I’m so glad this book surprised you like it did. It sounds wonderful!

  3. Hi Carrie, I have tears in my eyes after reading your review. Like you, I was surprised that Guideposts was interested in publishing my book, which was written for a mainstream audience, but the company has been wonderfully supportive. I’m so glad you liked it and wrote about it so beautifully.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Susan – thanks for commenting – and thank you for writing such a beautiful book!

  4. Kailana says:

    I am so glad you wound up enjoying this book much more than you expected. Good review!

  5. Melissa
    Twitter: myeclecticbooks

    Great review! Isn’t wonderful when a book that we don’t expect to like surprises us?

    Melissa @ Melissa’s Eclectic Bookshelf

  6. Amy says:

    The subject matter and themes in this book grabbed my interest right away. But, like you, when I saw that the publisher was Guideposts I felt myself silently groaning. One think I’ve learned since beginning my blog and spending time in this community is that my assumptions about books based on things like the publisher or subject matter are often a waste of time. I definitely chuckled when I started reading your review. What a relief to realize and read that my groaning (and assumption) was for naught! I am excited to read this book after your comment about how the author’s writing elevates the narrative..
    Thank you for a wonderful & honest review!

  7. I understand how you could have made some assumptions based on the publisher (my mom got that magazine as well!) so I’m really glad to see that the book stood on it’s own and was worth reading.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Heather -you’re welcome – I love it when a tour book is such a good match!

  8. Pingback: Susan Schoenberger, author of A Watershed Year, on tour November 2011 | TLC Book Tours

  9. stacybuckeye says:

    My mom gets Guidepost too! I actually enjoy reading it for a few minutes whenever I find it out. This one looks good and I’ll have to look for it.

  10. I started this book in 2004 and worked on each sentence many times, even reading the entire manuscript aloud, as Richard Ford promotes, so that I could make sure each verb was the best choice I could make. It’s truly gratifying to hear this kind of response about the writing. I came close with a number of bigger publishers, but I was fortunate to land at Guideposts, despite my own worries about how they might want me to change the manuscript. In the end, they showed great restraint and respect for my choices, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the responses from readers. Thank you again, Carrie, for the wonderful review.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Susan – I’m so glad to know this – I definitely won’t be so quick to judge a book by the publisher again!

  11. Stephanie says:

    I am glad you enjoyed this one so much because it’s coming up on my TBR pile!

  12. trish says:

    Your appreciation and love for this book is very evident in your review! So glad you loved it!

  13. Thanks to all of you for commenting. It’s great to see the interaction on this blog.

  14. Pingback: TLC Book Tour: A Watershed Year « ReviewsbyLola's Blog