‘December’ by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop

  Eleven-year-old Isabelle hasn’t spoken in nearly a year. Her parents, Ruth and Wilson, struggle to find the source of their daughter’s silence, a silence Isabelle herself does not completely understand.
  “There is comfort in her silence, a sort of safety, an invisible wall between her and the world that makes her feel untouchable. That is partly why she chose it, she thinks. Though maybe it has really chosen her; she hadn’t realized she would become trapped, unable to break out. She has lost control of her control.”
  Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop’s novel “December” is a touching portrait of a family in crisis. Wilson tries to bury his head in the sand by staying busy, but also attempts to lure his daughter out of her silence with dinners and activities. Ruth caters to her daughter’s silence, takes her to doctor after doctor, and often unleashes her frustration on her family. Both parents are scared, clinging to any possible cure for their only child, and feel guilty by the ever present feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
  Isabelle is a charming little girl and Winthrop does a fine job making readers care about her. Most will relate to the girl’s feeling of wanting to retreat from everything.
  “Sometimes, the safety she’s created by her silence is more terrifying than the world from which she wanted to withdraw. The world is senseless, but it is peopled. Please, she thinks, come in, but the shadows pass on and the sound of her father’s footsteps fades down the hall.”
  I did have a few problems with this novel, though. Nothing can be perfect can it?
  First, the mother is very abrasive. I don’t think I’d want to talk if I were around her either. She is rude and a nag. I felt bad for her husband. This book is set in New York, so maybe it’s a regional thing that I’m just not getting, but I did not like this woman, especially the lack of compassion she shows toward her mentally ill brother.
  My other problem, and this is really just a quibble, is that for as charming as Isabelle is, she seems much older than 11. Winthrop has created a very self-reflective, intellectual, philosophical child, so much so I think it goes beyond realism.
  Isabelle is doing her homework. “She rubs her eyes and pulls her math worksheet toward her. She frowns when she sees it; more probability. Probability, it seems to her, is not math. One might be able to predict the probability of something occurring, but whether or not the thing actually occurs is entirely out of math’s control. Probability, in the end, has nothing to do with actuality; it doesn’t matter if the probability of an occurrence is unlikely, only one out of a thousand; that one still exists in a very real way.”
  Winthrop is a young writer and shows great promise. Despite the flaws of "December," I did enjoy the book, though I don’t think I’d pay $23.95 for it in hardcover (there are few books I would).
  Isabelle makes this novel worth reading, but I’d wait for it to come out in paperback.

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