Title: Winter Loon
Author: Susan Bernhard
What it’s about: Fifteen-year-old Wes Ballot loses his mother to drowning on a lake. He gets taken in by his grandparents on his mother’s side–Ruby and Gip–who live in a trailer home in Loma, Minnesota, while his father disappears, abandoning Wes, even though he promises him he’ll be back in the summer for him. While he waits for his father to come get him, Wes becomes friends with the banker’s daughter, which seems to make Gip happy because he hopes that it will get the banker to back off of them when it comes to paying rent on the trailer.
During his eleven month stay with his grandparents, Wes finds out much about his mother’s side of the family, in between the things left unsaid, and the actions of his family members. His father never returns for him; however, Wes’ new friends and new girlfriend, Jolene, push him to go find his father and learn what happened to him.
My Verdict: For a coming-of-age story, this novel felt a little stale, while at the same time gripping. I didn’t much care for the parts where Wes interacts with his family members, because there was not much going on there. Everything felt a bit dry, which seems to have been the point, in order to show that the grandparents and father didn’t care for him as much as they should have. Jolene’s family, who actually were her aunt and uncle, showed more care towards Wes, and treated him as part of the family than any of his own family members. It saddens me that we never really find out what happens with Wes and Jolene as the book never clears that up in the end, because I was really rooting for them. I felt like they were a wonderful couple, and Jolene, as well as her family, pushed him to seek the truth for his own benefit. They were the ones that helped him grow up from a scared child who lost its mother to a young man that could face anything that came his way. I did enjoy the part where he discovers his father’s secret life, and he chooses to remain as part of that life, showing that he is not the man his father was, especially when his father disappears on them again.
Not the greatest novel on the planet, but I do love how Susan Bernhard depicts life in the mid-west, and brings in a Native American aspect into this story. The characters were somewhat flat, and emotionless. It was mostly an on-going monologue by Wes, telling his point of view, and mostly being factual about his memories. Rarely did he admit to any type of feeling, besides his love for Jolene and occasional guilt for his mother’s death. Since this is Susan Bernhard’s first novel, I’m willing to give her writing a second chance, and I hope that it will be a lot better than this story.