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December (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – July 14, 2009

3.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like her 2006 debut, Fireworks, Winthrop's second novel focuses on the turmoil wrought by the loss of a child. Although Wilson and Ruth Carter's 11-year-old daughter, Isabelle, is very much alive, she hasn't spoken in nine months, an elective muteness brought on by no known trauma. Her silence confounds her parents, a series of psychiatrists and her Manhattan private school, which, by December, is losing patience with her. Ruth, a successful lawyer, pores over Isabelle's past actions and sketchbooks for hidden meanings; Wilson, a well-meaning but often bumbling father who still views his preteen daughter as a little girl, is convinced that action, not analysis, will cure Isabelle. Isabelle herself, whom Winthrop introduces skillfully through a shifting third-person omniscient narrative, is most intriguing: keenly self-aware but unable to help herself, alternating between resentment and adoration for her parents, Isabelle is in many ways simply a preadolescent to the nth degree. Like budding artist Isabelle, Winthrop is a master of observation, and her ability to crystallize themes in particular vignettes (fixing a broken phonograph, buying Christmas presents) brings this affecting family drama vividly to life. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—Isabelle, 11, has not spoken in 280 days and her doting parents are frantic with worry. The girl enjoys a comfortable life in a Manhattan apartment and a country-weekend cottage and is enrolled in private school. Her silence is not the result of trauma and has no physical cause. Several psychologists have given up on "fixing" her, and her school threatens to cut her loose if she does not return to normalcy. Ruth, a somewhat controlling mother, hangs on to the hope that a new psychologist will unravel the mystery through Isabelle's drawings. Wilson holds on to the hope that action will cure his daughter's silence—hang the swing, clean the garage, cut the Christmas tree, travel to Africa. The plot is at first revealed through the parents' point of view and could almost be considered a mystery, complete with red herrings. (Will the deaf neighbor boy trigger Isabelle to speak? Has she inherited crazy Uncle Jimmy's tendency to mental problems?) Only when the story switches to the protagonist's point of view do readers begin to understand what is going on. December is a hauntingly quiet domestic drama, full of evocative language and agonizing emotional scenes. The looming demise of an old apple tree and of a cancer-stricken dog hint at the loss of a childhood. Isabelle's quiet, stubborn rebellion should appeal to teens.—Paula Dacker, Charter Oak High School, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (July 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307388573
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307388575
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #337,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What happens to a family when their only child decides to stop talking? As the fifth psychiatrist to which her parents bring 11-year old Isabelle says, there is nothing clinically wrong. Yet, he explains, her silence "is not because she does not want to speak." This second, and beautifully written, novel by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop sensitively examines how all of the family members struggle to cope with the silence that Isabelle has imposed upon herself as she, and they, struggle to bring her out of it. I found myself pulled into the family, rooting for each of the imperfect people in it to find a way to work through the situation.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This very realistic novel, December, by Winthrop is a mirror into the lives of a family facing a crisis of silence. The characters are very human and very true to life. The father tries to cope by losing himself to tasks,by keeping busy. The mother looks for ways to break through the walls of silence with psychiatrists and art. The child , so sensitive and intelligent, is coping with her stresses in a tomb of silence.
The book portrays the achingly real conflict of a child, who appears to be spoiled and willful, but who is actually a gentle soul caught up in a nature so fragile and sensitive that it requires the isolation of silence to cope. Any family going through parenting problems of any kind will relate to the love, sadness and frustration that December so realistically portrays.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
without spoiling the book for those who want to read it, i can only say that this book left a lot of things unexplained. it was a supreme let down. after i read the sample, i was hooked right in, but the ending is extremely abrupt, like the "seinfeld" finale. a lot to be desired, a lot to be explained. good effort, not so great on the follow-through.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book for many reasons! It is well written and she takes you down many paths, that much like life, work or don't. I felt as if I were spying on these people!

However I was impressed with her story of the girls silence. My daughter has Selective Mutism and is frequently placed in situations where she wants to talk but can not. I felt like this author completely understood my daughter, in ways even I do not, and captured the paraylsis of it! The story is not about why is silent - the story is about that she IS silent - brilliant! And her ability to capture the parents frustration over this condition yet immense desire to solve it - it is literally like stepping into someone's shoes and experincing their life with this problem. I am flummoxed how she could understand this condition so well. Bravo! A beautiful story that captures a perplexing tussle with life!
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Format: Kindle Edition
Intriguing yet disappointing. The characters are developed and become personally known to the reader. However, the plot doesn't develop into a climax that is satisfactory. I think if Ms Winthrop were telling me the story verbally, in person, she would be one of those people that causes me to check my watch and look for an excuse to dismiss myself. As harsh as that sounds, I did find myself caught up in the characters, hoping an explanation would arrive (much like parents would in a real-life situation as this) - which does lend itself an atmosphere of realism. However, those of us that choose fiction books as an escape from reality will be frustrated.
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By brnstdy on August 8, 2008
Format: Kindle Edition
A new Kindle and a long, summer vacation allowed me to read quite a few books. December was one of the best! Ms. Winthrop is a masterful storyteller! With insight and expertise, she takes readers inside the heads of each of the three main characters, a mother, a father, and a young daughter, who has stopped talking. We get to know them intimately through their thoughts or words. Personally, by the end of the book the characters were like friends, and I cared deeply about how the story resolved!
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Format: Hardcover
This is an intricately detailed novel covering only a few days in real time and,in a way, it's actually kind of too realistic. Promising plot points appear -- the deaf boy next door, Isabelle's latest doctor, her sketchbooks -- that lead nowhere, which happens often enough in real life but is frustrating in fiction where every word is supposed to mean something. I kept wondering what made Isabelle stop speaking, and the story was like a mystery to me in that sense...but the reader never really finds out.

It's unclear just when the story is set, which may be frustrating to some readers, but the absence of cell phones and computers and the mention of an answering machine as if it's a newfangled device makes me think early- to mid-eighties.

I was a bit troubled by what seemed to be the ultimate message of the book, that a family's love can "cure" a troubled child, because that isn't always true. Although Isabelle goes through five psychiatrists without a diagnosis, to me it looked pretty clear: selective mutism and, probably, severe depression. Neither of which tend to go away on their own, no matter how much your parents love you. I might have been persuaded it if the book had covered a longer time frame; as it was, the ending felt hurried.

On the other hand, each character was very carefully rendered, particularly Isabelle and her parents, and the painful, complicated but loving relationships within the family were very well done. And the suspense -- will Isabelle ever start talking again? -- moved the story right along. I sat down in the library and read it all right there, something I rarely do.

This book is a mixed bag. I'm in a generous mood so I gave it four stars.
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