An Iowa teenager grows through a year of grieving after her mother’s suicide—in a gentle story hovering on the brink of sentimentality.
One night in the spring of 1975, Alice’s mother Annie parks her car on a train track and waits for the train to hit. Three days later, 15-year-old Alice begins to hear her dead mother’s voice. Annie, in fact, fills Alice in on so many otherwise unknowable details about her past that after awhile the voice begins to feel less like a spiritual connection and more like simply a contrivance for getting information across. We learn that Annie left Iowa at 17, heading to New York with a man she met on a train after the man she really loved died. Four years later, she came home with one baby in her arms and pregnant with another. Being the kind of troubled-but-charismatic single mother now almost a cliché of contemporary women’s fiction, she was adored by her kids but never did fit back into small-town life. Now, though, Alice, her 16-year-old brother Will, and their guardian—Annie’s older sister Aggie—must cope with Annie’s death. Aggie turns to art and faces her life-long loneliness. Will, a star athlete too kind and brotherly to pass belief, breaks up with his genuinely nice girlfriend and starts hanging out with sensitive bad boy Joe Fry. It’s not long before Alice and Joe make eye contact and Alice soon loses her virginity. Then Alice discovers that class slut Paula—a nicer girl than her looseness would suggest—is pregnant. Heartbroken, Alice assumes Joe is the father, but readers will have already guessed the truth.
Sudsy adolescent melodrama is compensated for by a complex portrayal of small-town life, and by the care second-novelist Pietrzyk (Pears on a Willow Tree, 1998 ) takes in developing the little moments that make up Alice’s life.