Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger

When someone dies, it seems there are always things left to say. The ones left behind want to pick up a phone and tell their loved one something only to realize anew that the person is gone. But what if the same is true for the one who has died? What if there was more to say but there wasn't time to say it? What if those things that stayed unsaid could be said and could change the course of a life? A Watershed Year imagines just that scenario in a wonderful and credible way.

Lucy McVie has spent the past year of her life caring for her beloved friend Harlan as he fights cancer. Now a 38 year old college religion professor with an affinity for the saints, Lucy has known Harlan since they were in graduate school. She has also secretly been in love with him almost from the moment they met and so she thinks nothing of giving up time to care for him as he goes through treatment and then dies. After Harlan's death, Lucy must pick up the pieces of her neglected life. And then she receives an e-mail from Harlan that changes everything. He set up a program to send Lucy pre-written e-mails once a month starting several months after his death because he hasn't told her everything; he had more to say. The first e-mail hits on one of Lucy's unspoken, long-held wishes: to become a mother. Harlan tells her that he is certain that she will be a mother someday and that she will in fact be wonderful at it.

Once the e-mail opens Lucy to the possibility, she starts to make her way down the path to adopting. Things start to fall into place as she finds an agency specializing in Russian adoptions and is fast tracked to adopt 4 year old Mat whose eyes melt Lucy's heart when she sees his picture. At the same time, a colleague shows an interest in her romantically and her teaching career is only just hanging on by a thread. With so much going on in her life, it is not surprising that Lucy chooses to ignore the warning signs that everything may not be above board with the adoption. As in so much of her life, when she commits her heart, she does it fully and without reservation but also without understanding the emotional repercussions of such a commitment.

Lucy's year after losing Harlan is indeed a watershed year for her. She learns about herself and her capacity for love. She makes some tough decisions; some that bring her joy and some that bring her sadness. She might not yet be as strong as Harlan says she can be but she struggles through and comes out stronger for it. As a character, she is lovely and realistic. The secondary characters are less fleshed out but this is, after all, Lucy's watershed year and so the focus is fittingly on her. The monthly e-mails from Harlan act as the catalyst for her adopting Mat but they also help her to come to a better understanding of who she really is inside, the person for whom Harlan cared so deeply. And the flashbacks to her relationship with Harlan offer a sweet glimpse into the past, helping to round out and explain Lucy as a character but also offering insight into the core nature of their realtionship.

Schoenberger has written a deeply moving tale, a wonderful and rich novel, one that packs many different emotional punches. Touching on grief and love and motherhood, she has created a true and touching story. Adoption is not easy. In fact, it is fraught with frustration, uncertainty, and hopelessness, even after Lucy brings Mat home. Grief is not simple. It is consuming and sneaky and constant. Love is not immediate or safe or perfect. It is hard won but all the sweeter for that. All of these things and more are true and Schoenberger has shown them to be so beautifully.

For more information about Susan Schoenberger and the book visit her webpage, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Oh wow! This sounds incredible! I'm adding this to my WishList!

  2. Now I know what you do at 3:35 AM! Sounds like a great book. I'm going to go look for it for my Kindle. -Kathleen

  3. I love how you describe adoption, grief, and love at the end of your review - so true in all three cases.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  4. Thanks so much for the wonderful review! You hit upon so many of the important points I wanted to convey.

  5. I thought this one was a phenomenal debut.


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