Two pregnant women separated by time . . . Are they more connected than they know?
Shannon Henry is just starting to put her life back together after the death of her infant daughter when she discovers she’s pregnant again. Afraid of losing another child, at first she hides the news from her husband Wade. When her doctor presents her with the choice of either raising a child with Down syndrome or terminating the pregnancy, Shannon is torn. Then things strangely start going missing—their wedding picture, a bracelet with charms for their three children, Wade’s clothes on the floor which she’s always complained about. And why is she having nightmares about losing her husband?
Leslie Gardner is a high-school senior in 1979 who dreams of becoming a professional ballerina, but she discovers she is pregnant too. If she has the child, her chances of a dancing career and college are over, but her friend shows her another option. If she secretly has an abortion like her boyfriend wants, her problems will be over and her life can go on as planned.
While Shannon wrestles with her sanity, Leslie struggles with whether or not to tell her parents. Each must make a decision that will alter both the future and the past forever.
I‘ll start off by saying that I have a lot of conflicting feelings about Snow Out of Season. The premise of the story initially appealed to me because I’m a big fan of dual-time narratives (Kate Morton, Rachel Hore, etc), but the direction that the author took with this story wasn’t the one I was expecting. Instead of the contemporary character uncovering some object or letter that linked her to the historical storyline and caused her to investigate it, the two stories ran parallel to each other but were largely unconnected for the majority of the book. When they did finally collide, it was a bit unsatisfactory. Although there is a dramatic scene where Shannon and Leslie connect, it takes place in a sort of alternate reality, and I wished they’d had a chance to sit down and chat in the “real” world, perhaps allowing Shannon to ask Leslie for advice about her situation.
I have a lot of conflicting feelings about Snow Out of Season.
In order to enjoy this book, you’re probably going to have to be comfortable with unexplained magical occurrences. There’s never any real explanation given for the way that Leslie and Shannon’s worlds collide, or why or how Shannon finds herself in an alternate reality. There are a lot of parallels to A Christmas Carol, as Shannon is directing a production of the book with her students, but aside from this the situation isn’t ever explained, and Shannon is ultimately so happy to be returned to her normal life that she doesn’t look for answers. I feel like this book would be well-received if it was marketed as a Christmas novel. In my experience, random mystical happenstance tends to be pretty well accepted in Christmas-themed novels (Debbie Macomber’s Mrs Miracle, for example). Since this book released in December and has the word “Snow” in the title, perhaps this will work in the novel’s favour.
Both Shannon and Leslie struggle with very real dilemmas, and the reader gets a believable picture of the issues they’re facing. Leslie is afraid to give up her dreams as a ballerina in order to have a baby, and Shannon is scared to have another child that she might lose. Enough of the women’s backstories is explained to help us understand how they’ve come to be pregnant and why they’re so unsure about keeping their babies. Even so, I never really came to care that much about them. Maybe it was all the hopping back and forth between time periods and the short scenes that I struggled with? Sometimes I felt like I was just getting into the groove with Leslie or Shannon’s situation, and then the scene would change. I would have preferred longer scenes, and maybe even a longer book. 288 pages isn’t all that long. I wanted more time learning what it meant to be a teenager in the 1970s, more time seeing Shannon grapple with her grief over her lost child, even if this meant fifty extra pages, or more. This book touched the surface on these issues, but I felt like it could have dug deeper if given the opportunity.
Sometimes I felt like I was just getting into the groove with Leslie or Shannon’s situation, and then the scene would change. I would have preferred longer scenes, and maybe even a longer book.
Snow Out of Season did really grip me towards the end when Shannon found herself in the alternate reality. This section of the novel was incredibly well-written, and even if I hadn’t cared that much about Shannon before, I really empathised with her confusion and fear that she’d lost her family, and hurt for her. The tension was strong, and I flipped through the pages much faster than I had before, determined to see Shannon happily reunited with her family and out of this nightmare.
Possibly my biggest gripe with this novel is simply that I could see what it was trying to do, what message it was trying to teach me. It was so obvious and heavy-handed. Shannon has two healthy children and one that died of SIDS, but she’s not sure if she wants to keep this new pregnancy because the baby may have a disorder that means it also dies young, or has difficulties throughout its short life. It’s a pretty common situation. Throughout the novel, she’s faced with strange occurences that eventually compound in teaching her a lesson about the importance of an individual life, helping her to make the final decision about her unborn child. I don’t mind this message. I am unashamedly pro-life, and since I’m a mother, Shannon’s story should have really spoken to me. At times it did, but mostly I just felt underwhelmed by the message and the way in which it was presented. I don’t think it really added anything massively new to the pro-life argument.
The tension was strong, and I flipped through the pages much faster than I had before, determined to see Shannon happily reunited with her family and out of this nightmare.
In fact, I think Leslie had it pretty easy—sure, she would have to give up her career as a ballerina if she chose to continue her pregnancy, but she came from a comfortably wealthy family who would support her financially and emotionally, and she had a good man standing by who was willing to marry her. A lot of pregnant teenagers in the 1970s would not have had her advantages. Would she have made the same decision if she were from a less-stable family who would have forced her to raise the baby alone, or in an abusive relationship, or if she had been raped? I don’t think the pro-life movement needs more stories of healthy, wealthy teenage moms. I think it needs more examples of women who truly couldn’t imagine raising a child and the external help they require to get through their situation if they do choose to continue their pregnancies.
This has been a really difficult review to write. In a nutshell, I liked Snow Out of Season, but I think it could have been improved to be an even better novel. I know that it came third place in the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest, but I don’t know how many rewrites the book went through before it was published. I think it’s a great debut attempt and shows a lot of promise for Christy Burke as a writer. Some of the elements that didn’t work for me—the lack of explanation for the magical occurrences, the overt message—might not bother others so much. While I didn’t love Snow Out of Season, it was for the most part an easy, enjoyable read.