Fifteen-year-old Mary Donahue of suburban Chicago is a kid on the cusp of failure during the brutal blizzard winter of 1978-79, the end of a hard luck, hard rock era sunk in the cynical aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Though a smart, beautiful kid, she's a motherless girl raised by an uneducated, alcoholic father within an extended family of alcoholics and addicts. Aware that she's sinking, she's desperate to save herself and so reaches out to an unlikely source, Kathleen, a nice, normal kid from English class.
But when the real storm hits, the full force of a harsh adult world almost buries Mary. Only then does she learn that the only difference between life and death is knowing when to grasp an extended hand.
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Winter Light penned by the author Martha Engber features a fifteen-year-old protagonist Mary. The story is set in the brutal winter of 1978-1979 Chicago. Mary lost her mother when she was five years old. She has ghostly memories of her mother. Only Mary has a steady income in her family. She takes care of paying electricity, gas and grocery bills. Her brother Danny hopped jobs so he could search for the perfect labor. He pays the phone bill and helps with the food. But Mary's fifty-years-old dad Frank could only stay on a job for 1 or two weeks.
Mary is smart and beautiful. Mary befriends a girl named Kathleen. Mary's life as a teenager is not easy. She struggles every day to live. Read this to know about her struggles and what she will do for her freedom and future.
I really appreciate Martha's storytelling skills. Reading about Mary's struggle made this book worth reading. If you love reading stories involving female protagonists, then don't miss to get your hands on this book. I like to recommend this novel to high school and college students. The twists and turns in the story made it more enjoyable. This is a great read for sure. Go ahead with it without any second thoughts.
Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Winter Light by Martha Engber is a coming-of-age novel that gives us a stark reminder of the narrow line between success and failure, sorrow and joy, contentment and destruction that so many of our teenagers are forced to navigate in those dangerous and yet potentially rewarding years of high school. Fifteen-year-old Mary Donahue lives in suburban Chicago during the brutal winter of 1978-79. Mary is part of the high school clique known colloquially as the “burnouts”. She lives right at the edge of the precipice, binging on drugs, alcohol, and fast cars. Her mother died when she was just a young girl and her father buried himself in a bottle from that day forward. Her siblings, apart from her beloved brother Danny, are no use to her and the rest of her relatives also seem to be buried in their own misery and alcoholism. Smart and beautiful, Mary knows there has to be more to life than this self-destructive dive into pain and ultimately an untimely death but she has no way of knowing how to break the downward spiral her life seems to be on. In desperation, she tries to reach out across the social teenage divide and befriend a preppy girl, Kathleen. When Mary begins to see just how a “real” family is supposed to operate and that there are opportunities to be had if she is prepared to put the effort in and use her brain, she desperately wants what her new friend Kathleen has. Mary has struggled to exist almost every day of her young life and she figures it can’t be that difficult to redirect purpose and strength in a positive direction – can it?
Winter Light is one of the most powerful narratives I’ve read in a long time. Author Martha Engber perfectly captures the angst, the sense of loss, the total aimlessness, and the intense frustration at being unable to change what it is that bedevils Mary. Mary is edgy, tough, and yet infinitely vulnerable and sweet underneath the tough exterior. I found myself talking to Mary, imploring her not to go that way, not to get in the car, not to be so darn stupid. Any author that can make a reader respond so emotionally to her written words is an author of rare talent and Engber is such an author. With all the odds stacked against her, it is clear Mary has what it takes to break free but can she summon the persistence and courage to do exactly that? The plot is tight and the writing stark and real. Yes, there are times you may cringe from the words or the action but it is realistic in a way that is often sanitized and glossed over in literature. Although many of the situations in which Mary places herself or finds herself are entirely predictable, it doesn’t detract from the action-packed narrative that equally allows time for quiet reflection and insight from the main characters. Looking back at one’s own teenage years through the eyes of Mary is something this story compels and it doesn’t take much for one to reflect there but for the grace of God, go I. It is rare that a novel evokes such a visceral response in a reader as this story did in me and I can highly recommend this read.