A Year and a Day
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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.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
A Year and a Day is the typical, if not tired renditon of a coming of age teenage daugter and her coming of age brother dealing with the inexplicable suicide of their mother. Read morePublished on July 6 2004
I got up early this morning to finish reading this book. It was engrossing, and well-written. Leslie Pietrzyk's writing is smooth and enjoyable, without any annoying snags or plot... Read morePublished on May 15 2004 by A. Schultz
I wish I could give this book more than five stars. I loved it!
I started reading it and couldn't put it down. Read more
I really loved "A Year and A Day". It was a wonderfully moving novel that really took me back in time to a kinder world. Read morePublished on March 24 2004
This is an excellent book; a compelling story with rich detail and exquisite character development presenting both the complexities and thrills we all encountered while growing up. Read morePublished on March 12 2004