Review

Life Without Summer

by Lynne Griffin

Lynne Griffin hooks her readers on page one of LIFE WITHOUT
SUMMER, drawing them into the powerful point of view of Tessa Gray,
just days after she has experienced every parent’s worst
nightmare: the death of her four-year-old daughter, Abby, in a
hit-and-run accident outside the little girl’s preschool.
When we first meet Tessa, she’s a wreck, turning away from
her differently grieving husband, rejecting the well-meaning
advances of family and friends.

At last, Tessa is convinced by her husband to start seeing a
therapist, Celia Reed. Celia is the one who assigns Tessa to write
the journal that forms part of the novel’s narrative. Just as
we feel we’re getting to know Tessa, however, we also get to
know Celia through the pages of her own journal.

Celia is a competent, caring therapist, but she’s also a
mother; occasionally, she has a difficult time maintaining
professional distance from Tessa’s situation. Celia has
recently remarried after years of being married to an alcoholic.
Her 15-year-old son, Ian, seems most affected by the change in his
family circumstances, disappearing for hours to his room, failing
to complete his homework, and skipping school. Ian and his
stepfather are constantly at odds with one another, and Celia finds
herself questioning how, or why, she came to this place in her
life, even as she works to help Tessa come to terms with her own
family crises.

Tessa is convinced that if only her daughter’s case was
handled by more competent police detectives, she would finally have
the one answer she’s been craving: the name of the person who
killed her daughter. Even though Celia cautions that this kind of
closure seldom results in real healing, Tessa is on a mission to
find answers. Little does she know that the answers she seeks will
reveal new, unexpected connections to her therapist, whose family
history is at least as tumultuous as Tessa’s own.

LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER is Lynne Griffin’s first novel, and
one of its greatest strengths is its author’s understanding
of and commitment to family life. Griffin is a well-regarded expert
on family issues, and she brings this thoughtfulness to bear on her
book as well. In heart-wrenching journal entries from both
women’s points of view, she probes into the thoughts ---
sometimes ugly, sometimes redemptive --- that compel both Celia and
Tessa.

Perhaps because she has had so much real-life exposure to
families in crisis, Griffin largely avoids the kinds of
clichés that often mar books about loss: Tessa and her husband
actually grow stronger as a couple over time, Celia finds ways to
forgive her alcoholic ex. At times, Griffin’s prose can be a
bit awkward, and although most of her characters are compelling and
three-dimensional, Celia’s second husband becomes a bit of a
caricature of the pompous academic. Nevertheless, if Griffin is
able to delve into family issues and women’s lives with such
fearless insight, readers will be demanding more from this new
perspective in fiction.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 30, 2010

Life Without Summer
by Lynne Griffin

  • Publication Date: April 14, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312383886
  • ISBN-13: 9780312383886