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Trade Paperback
320 pages
Mar 2011

The Watershed Year: A Novel

by Susan Schoenberger

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A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger is about one woman’s journey to discover the meaning of motherhood and the power of redemption. The theme is best summarized in Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Encouraged by lost loved ones and an entourage of Catholic saints, Lucy McVie is able to maintain her relentless optimism despite the difficult transitions she encounters.

Lucy is a mother without a child. After caring for her best friend and true love, Harlan Matthews, through his unsuccessful battle with cancer, she finds herself alone in the world. Although she’s a busy professor working to earn tenure at Ellsworth College in Baltimore, she feels compelled to adopt a child. Her desire is confirmed in an email from Harlan that arrives shortly after his death. Apparently, Harlan established an email system that would send Lucy one prewritten message at the beginning of every month so he could continue to be part of her life.

On a whim, Lucy decides to adopt four-year-old Mat from a less-than-official Russian adoption agency. As time goes by, she cannot imagine life without her new son. Grieving his own losses, Mat seems like the perfect match for Lucy’s aching heart. However, as they begin to establish a relationship, an unexpected visitor arrives who could jeopardize their future as a family.

The bulk of the plot is devoted to internal struggles Lucy endures as she attempts to rebuild her life and transition into motherhood. The story is told in third person from Lucy’s point of view, and each chapter includes flashbacks of her friendship with Harlan. Throughout the novel, philosophical ideas about life and death are effectively incorporated in Harlan’s monthly emails.

Lucy is a strong, single woman who tends to let her emotions get the best of her. She’s ambitious, loving, and nurturing, but sometimes she overanalyzes situations, allowing herself to be overcome by worry. Although she relies on the saints to help her through life’s struggles, she runs from her feelings and struggles to give God complete control of her life. Schoenberger develops believable characters and expresses her ideas clearly. I enjoyed reading Harlan’s emails to Lucy. He’s very insightful and inspiring.

Throughout the novel, the saints are her main source of comfort and encouragement. Although Lucy believes in God, she seems to focus more creating a relationship with the saints rather than a relationship with the Lord Himself. – Kara Hackett,

Editor’s note: Given the Catholic theology of this book and the reliance on saints over God, Christian Book Previews does not recommend this book to its readers.

Book Jacket:

Lucy never confessed her love to her best friend Harlan before he passed away. Two months after his funeral, she is haunted by the power of things left unsaid when she receives the first of his emails arranged to be sent after his death. So begins the year everything changes— her watershed year.

In an email, Harlan says something that consumes her— he's certain Lucy is destined for motherhood. In her grief, she suddenly rediscovers hope, journeying to Russia to adopt a four-year-old boy. When she meets her son Mat for the first time, she realizes he's also mending a wounded heart, and is just as lost as she is. Together, they learn to trust as each helps the other heal. But just as they're welcoming their new normal, Mat's father comes to America to reclaim his son, and reveals the truth about Mat's past that might shatter Lucy's fragile little family forever.

Susan Schoenberger's breathtaking and powerful story of love, loss, redemption, and what it means to be a mother, will leave you in awe as Lucy, in the depths of her greatest despair, somehow finds her greatest joy, and embraces the beauty of second chances.