Winter Loon – by Susan Bernhard – independent book review – Fiction

An emotionally powerful, deeply sad, and realistic coming-of-age story from a new writer. Difficult to read at times (especially if you have suffered your own childhood traumas) but with a protagonist who plants himself into your heart from the very first pages. Awarded 5 stars on Goodreads.

Wes is about 12 when the book begins, living with two dysfunctional parents, who are caught in a mutually dependent, love-hate relationship that is amplified by drugs and alcohol, physical abuse, and poverty. Brutal fights, passive aggressive behavior, intense reconciliations, and recurrent separations are all Wes knows of family. Later, after he witnesses a horrible family tragedy, Wes winds up living with his two grandparents, who have their own sad histories and are equally incapable of providing the love and support he needs.

But Wes is stronger than his circumstances might lead you to believe. Despite this shaky foundation and understandable difficulties with trust, Wes begins forming attachments with people outside his family. The daughter of a wealthy, small-town businessman, a few co-workers at his summer farm job, and, most importantly, with a Native American girl and her family. All the while, he is waiting passively for rescue. Eventually, Wes takes control and goes off on a solo quest to get answers and where he finally discovers what true family means.

This is a beautifully written debut novel. Most impressive to me was how successful this female author was at getting so deeply, so skillfully, and so believably inside the mind of this teenage boy — with that strange mixture of childlike hope, raging hormones, and budding adult strength.

Susan Bernard
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From the beginning, I loved Wes, worried about him, and was nervously eager to get to the very satisfying conclusion of the book. I guarantee this one will get under your skin. Thank you, Susan Bernard.

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