Summary and book reviews of December by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop

December
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2008,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2009,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

A spellbinding novel about a troubled young girl and a family in crisis, and a gripping, astonishing portrait of recovery and self-determination.

When December opens, eleven year old Isabelle hasn’t spoken a word in nearly a year. Four psychiatrists have abandoned her, declaring her silence to be impenetrable. Her parents are at once mystified and terrified by their daughter’s withdrawal, and by their own gradually loosening hold on the world as they’ve always known it. Isabelle’s private school, which has until now taken the extraordinary step of allowing her to complete her assignments from home, is on the verge of expelling her, forcing her parents to confront the possibility that what once seemed a quirk of adolescence, a phase, is perhaps a lifelong transformation, a swift and total retreat from which their daughter may never emerge. December paints an unforgettable picture of a family reckoning with a bewildering crisis, and of a critical month in the life of a bright, fascinating girl, locked into an isolation of her own making and from which only she can decide to break free.

Compulsively readable and deeply affecting, December is a work of marvelous originality and emotional power from a prodigiously gifted young writer.

One

Saturday

Wilson’s got his arm deep in the twisted mess of wires, pipes, and tubing that festers there beneath his truck’s dented hood like the intestines of some living thing. He gropes at the undersides of things, trying to find whatever leaking crack it is that’s caused him now to fail inspection twice. That and the broken hinge of the driver’s seat, which he keeps upright by stacking milk crates behind it.

“Damn truck,” he mutters. “Goddamn.” He says it though he loves this truck, he wouldn’t ever trade it in. It keeps him busy on the weekends; it’s a project, a chore.

Today is Wilson’s birthday. He looks younger than his forty-two years, and in many ways he feels it. He feels the same as he always has, all his life, same as he did as a kid stalking through the woods with a BB gun or a young man drunk at a keg party, and so sometimes he doesn’t recognize the city businessman he’s become, with a weekend ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Winthrop's prose is bright and piercing at points, dull and mundane at others. Her descriptions are precise and methodical, but the specific details become burdensome at times. The shining light, and the reason the pages continue to turn, is Isabelle. Winthrop handles her expertly, and she should have been given more space. A version of this novel in first person narration from Isabelle's point of view would have been intensely revelatory.

Ultimately, however, December offers a keen and real glimpse into the troubled heart of a young girl, and Winthrop provides a unique view into the challenging transition from childhood to adulthood.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (718 words).

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

A surfeit of elitist sensitivity undermines the novel's genuine intelligence and sensory delights.

Publishers Weekly

Winthrop is a master of observation, and her ability to crystallize themes in particular vignettes...brings this affecting family drama vividly to life

Library Journal

This story of a family in crisis builds in emotion until a spellbinding climax brings things to a realistic and satisfying close.

Reader Reviews
Joyce

Worth reading
I read the book excerpt on BrookBrowse and when I went to my local library, there it was on the new books rack. I was excited to be the first to check it out of the library. I pretty much read this straight through. The story told through the eyes...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Isabelle is not diagnosed in the book, but were she to be, she would probably be diagnosed with Selective Mutism, a childhood anxiety disorder. Some therapists might even diagnose her with Traumatic Mutism because of the immediate onset and her total silence. Most children with SM are not completely silent all the time. They are silent as a result of deep anxiety, but will talk normally when they are in 'safe' environments. Isabelle would be a rare case because she is completely silent for nine months.

Children with SM often have "severely inhibited temperaments" and are more prone to anxiety. When we become stressed, the amygdala (the brain's "emergency manager") responds to the potential crisis by overriding thought and...

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