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A Year and a Day [Library Binding]

Leslie Pietrzyk
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 29 2008 1435292146 978-1435292147 Reprint

Fifteen-year-old Alice dreams of her first kiss, has sleepovers, auditions for Our Town, and tries to pass high school biology. It's 1975, and at first look, her life would seem to be normal and unexceptional. But in the world that Leslie Pietrzyk paints, every moment she chronicles is revealed through the kaleidoscope of loss, stained by the fact that Alice's mother, without warning, note, or apology, deliberately parks her car on the railroad tracks, in the path of an oncoming train.

In the emotional year that follows, Alice and her older brother find themselves in the care of their great aunt, forced to cope and move forward. Lonely and confused, Alice absorbs herself in her mother Annette's familiar rituals, trying to recapture their connection -- only to be stunned by the sound of her mother's voice speaking to her, engaging Alice in "conversations" and offering some insight into the life that she had led, beyond her role as Alice's mother.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In this heartfelt if familiar coming-of-age novel set in smalltown Shelby, Iowa, in 1975, Pietrzyk (Pears on a Willow Tree) chronicles a year in the life of 15-year-old Alice Martin after her mother's suicide. "Once you get through this first year, you're fine," the high school principal promises her, reading from a manual. But Alice isn't so sure. Three days after her mother's death, as Alice tries to fill her place by preparing Sunday morning pancakes, her mother speaks to her, providing advice on cooking, makeup and driving, but rarely answering the questions Alice really wants answered: Who is my father? What happened to him? How could you leave me? All Alice and her older brother, Will, know is what their great-aunt Aggy tells them: their mother moved away at age 17 and came back pregnant, with a baby in her arms. Over the course of the year, Alice uncovers secrets, unravels mysteries and finds that nothing and no one are what they seem. Her baseball-star brother runs away to see the Red Sox, Alice herself dallies with the school's bad boy and Pietrzyk allows the reader hints of why Alice's mother might have killed herself. Eccentric mothers and long-suffering daughters are a dime a dozen in recent fiction, but Pietrzyk paints a rich picture of life in rural Iowa, from summer jobs detassling corn to the suffocating force of conformity. As one Shelby housewife advises Alice, "Fitting in is so important. Everything is simpler that way."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Three days after her mother commits suicide, 15-year-old Alice begins to hear her voice. Giving Alice advice on everything from how to make pancakes to how to apply eyeliner, her mother also imparts some surprising information about her past--how she met Alice's father and why she left him. Alice pumps her eccentric, distracted aunt Aggy for more information and cross-examines her older brother about their absent father, struggling to integrate what she learns. She begins an exciting new relationship with bad boy Joe Fry, the only person who is unafraid to speak openly and honestly about her loss. Pietrzyk's sprawling second novel, following Pears on a Willow Tree (1998), gets a few things right, especially small-town teen girls in the seventies and their obsession with makeup, Ouija boards, and boys. Unfortunately, her mother's voice quickly comes to seem like an obvious and labored plot device. Still, there's humor here and a likable protagonist in Alice, who is not afraid to look for answers to some of life's biggest questions. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars a touching, tender story July 13 2004
By A Customer
A Year and a Day provides a chronicle of one person's search for answers to the questions that accompany an untimely death. Although the death in the book is a suicide, the same chorus of "why, why, why?" accompanies any unexpected death. The questions in this book are asked by 15-year old Alice as she tries to restore her life after it has been turned topsy-turvy by her mother's suicide.
Alice's world--1975 small-town Iowa--is lovingly and deftly created. Midwestern readers of a certain age can enjoy reliving their days of small-town rhythms, slumber parties, detasseling corn, and Jell-o salads. (Iowa still leads the nation in per capita Jell-o consumption.) Readers can also note that some things have changed-e.g., a pregnancy out of wedlock being such a social stigma that Paula Eland has to be sent out of town during her pregnancy. And, coming of age, realizing that things are not always as they seem, that there are no easy answers are experiences common to humankind.
It is frustrating to never learn the reasons for Mamma's suicide, but Alice comes to realize that there are not only no easy answers, sometimes there are no answers at all. Throughout the book Alice asks the unanswerable questions. Readers who have experienced such a loss will relate to Alice and may even hope that she finds the answers she is seeking. Yet we know in our hearts that the asking is part of healing and the echoes of the unanswered questions will last a lifetime.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intensely Moving March 18 2004
Death is inevitable.
It will come whether people want it to or not. What happens, though, when it's your own mother and not only did she want it to happen but she parked her car on a set of railroad tracks to ensure it?
Without a word. Without any clear indication that she was even contemplating such an action.
She always seemed so happy...didn't she? Loved to cook, made plans for the summer, played games and dressed up.
Why becomes a larger-than-life word when fifteen-year-old Alice Martin tries to understand and cope with her mother's suicide. Her outlook on life, as well as that of her brother's, changes dramatically with that one event.
Lacking maternal guidance, they are forced to make choices, explore life and love on their own. Run away or stay...give up or go on. A constant internal battle.
Hearing her mother's voice does not help the situation any. Alice expects her mother to answer her questions, explain things, give her advice. But a mother who barely understood how to cope with things herself is in no position to provide just the right words for an emotionally overloaded daughter.
So Alice deals in any way she can, which sometimes is by not dealing at all. Her life has become a quest for answers, for a truth that may not even exist and may not matter anyway.
Denial, desolation, sparks of hope and heartfelt longing are experienced by the reader as much as by the protagonist. Leslie Pietrzyk's research into suicide and its aftereffects breeds credibility and ignites an inner contemplation even for those who have not been touched by it personally.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Everyone Lives Their Real Life in Secret" March 11 2004
By A Customer
I'm surprised by the reviewer who complains that Alice's Mama gives her advice about makeup, boys, etc. Isn't the point that Alice, on the verge of womanhood, sorely misses her mother? And in fact I loved the scene where Mama instructs Alice in making up her face, and the detail of the lipstick, worn thin at the tip by Mama's lips. What Alice learns from Mama isn't trivial at all. It all adds up to something big, something Alice learns from Mama and by observing, through the lens of her grief, the town she has known all her life: "Everyone lives their real life in secret. You'll see."
The novel has a slow start in the aftermath of Mama's death, with small-town Iowa neighbors from central casting bringing various colors of Jell-O molds and uttering platitudes to the stunned family. And, as one of the editorial reviewers pointed out, there's no shortage of books about eccentric mothers and abandoned daughters (there's an eccentric aunt here, too). But I stuck with it and the characters grew on me tremendously, particularly Paula Elam and Joe Fry--two of the sort you think you know, then realize you don't know what they're like at all. I liked this enough that I'm looking forward to going back and reading Pietrzyk's first novel.
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2.0 out of 5 stars seems like a year to finish March 8 2004
As an enthusiastic motivated reader who enjoys books from nearly ever genre (as well as those that defy such labels), I found this book sorely dissappointing. And I didn't even expect that much to begin with.
When the dead Mama returns to give out advice and information to her struggling daughter, it becomes clear that not only does Mama have nothing of any import to say (though she says it for pages upon pages) but that she's really wanting us, the readers, to take her advice to heart. The trouble is, the belaboured advice never hits upon any subject matter more deep or profound than comments on makeup, boys, family squabbles, and the like.
The small-town descriptive passages are sweet and lovely, if you like that sort of thing. But ultimately this redemption isn't enough to make this book compelling.
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