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Life Without Summer: A Novel

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Life Without Summer tells the story of Tessa, a mother who has just lost her four-year-old daughter in a hit-and-run accident and the grief counselor, Celia, who tries to help her to put her life back together. When their lives begin to intersect in powerful and unexpected ways, they discover that the answers one needs might be the other’s only chance for peace. Each woman’s intensely personal journey reverberates with universal themes about the connections between love, marriage, truth, and forgiveness that no ...

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Life Without Summer: A Novel

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Life Without Summer tells the story of Tessa, a mother who has just lost her four-year-old daughter in a hit-and-run accident and the grief counselor, Celia, who tries to help her to put her life back together. When their lives begin to intersect in powerful and unexpected ways, they discover that the answers one needs might be the other’s only chance for peace. Each woman’s intensely personal journey reverberates with universal themes about the connections between love, marriage, truth, and forgiveness that no reader will forget.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A spellbinding tale of loss and hard-won redemption... Griffin's carefully crafted characters ring heartbreakingly true and her finely wrought plot will snare readers from the first page." —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"...this stirringly believable epistolary novel...[will be a] strong addition to women’s' fiction." —Booklist

"A remarkable debut novel." —Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author of True Colors.

"This is an insightful, honest book about the nature of grief, loss, love, marriage and divorce...Each time my family's needs forced me to put it down, I found myself anticipating the time I could pick up it up again. Lynne Griffin has given readers the gift of a compelling novel of character and of life." —Jeanne Ray, New York Times bestselling author of Julie and Romeo and Eat Cake

"I could not stop reading!!!! Life Without Summer is what I consider the epitome of smart women's fiction. Once I picked this book up, I could not put it down and found it utterly real and compelling. This is a deeply satisfying book that pulls us through the lives of two very different women any one of which could be ourselves." —Patricia Wood, Orange Prize-nominated author of Lottery

"Part who-dunnit, part psychological portraiture, part an argument for the necessity of "facing" grief, Life Without Summer is an always-involving novel. Griffin is a master of the crisp and telling detail, and her troubled main characters are wonderfully human." —Martha Moody, national bestselling author of Best Friends and The Office of Desire

"There are many deep satisfactions in this absorbing and deftly plotted novel but what I most admired was Lynne Griffin's wonderfully complex characterization of her two heroines...A sparkling debut." —Margot Livesey, author of New York Times Notable Book Eva Moves the Furniture and Banishing Verona

"Griffin's sensitive debut reveals how loss can tear people apart yet be the same force that binds them again with strength and love. Many readers will find comfort and healing through this heartfelt, genuine story." —Ronlyn Domingue, author of The Mercy of Thin Air

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312383886
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/14/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 8.58 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Lynne Griffin is a nationally recognized expert on family life. She is the author of Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority Without Punishment (Berkley/Penguin 2007). As the parenting contributor for Boston’s Fox 25 Morning News, she appears regularly in the segment Family Works. Lynne teaches in the graduate program of Social Work and Family Studies at Wheelock College, and at Grub Street Writers. She lives outside Boston, Massachusetts with her family. Life Without Summer is her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Life Without Summer


the fall

day 18 without Abby

There's a thud as her little body collides with the steel fender. No scream. Just a soft sigh, a surprised breath inhaled as she's lifted from the ground only to be returned there. I hear it happen. I see it happen. And I wasn't even there.

Like the other twelve mornings I'd driven Abby to preschool, she skipped out to the minivan. Her backpack slung over her shoulders. It was so wide her little head of curls stuck up like a turtle's out of its shell. The only sound I heard that sun-drenched morning was her chirpy voice telling me to hurry. It was too early in the season to hear discarded leaves under her feet, though I wouldn't have heard them anyway. She was wearing her new ballet slippers, the ones she'd worn every day since I'd bought them for back-to-school. The ride to Bright Futures Preschool was only seven minutes, and she talked the whole way, wondering whether they'd start the day indoors or out. Neither of us could've known that the light kiss and fleeting hug she gave me outside the gate of the playground would be our last.

I've gone over and over every detail of that morning, thinking if only I'd kept her home because of those sniffles, or if only it was my day to volunteer. Maybe if I had changed one single thing about that morning, life would be different now.

I can't see how writing about it will help, but Celia says it will. My first therapy appointment was yesterday. I gripped the railing as I made my way down the steps of my farmer's porch; it was my first time out in two weeks. In seconds, I realized my capri pants and flip-flops were geared to the weather before—not to the crisp fall air that hit me in the shins as I walked to my van. I didn't have the energy to change.

I hoisted all 110 pounds of me into the driver's seat, which was positioned too far back for my legs. The van was cleaner on the inside than it had been in months. Ethan must have been the last to drive my Voyager, which no longer has a car seat. I reached under the seat to pull it forward, and my hand felt the stiff body of a plastic ballerina, the one Abby had been looking for weeks ago.

I held the tiny dancer to my chest and drove one town over to talk to a stranger about my life without Abby. Ethan wants me to see Celia. He says it isn't normal to sleep in Abby's bed, to surround myself with her baby blanket and stuffed bunny. I don't care what's normal. It isn't normal to lose the only child you have or ever will have. It isn't normal for someone to run down a four-year-old outside her preschool and not stop to help her, or tell her mother why this had to happen.

My life won't ever be normal again.

day 20 without Abby

Last night I slept more than two hours; I set a new record, three and a half. I wish I hadn't slept that long because when I woke up in Abby's bed, clutching Tootsie Rabbit, it took me a fewseconds to remember. I wasn't in her bed because I'd fallen asleep reading "Wynken, Blynken and Nod," or because I'd comforted her back to sleep after a bad dream. No, this was my nightmare.

I hate myself for forgetting for a single second. I'm afraid if I could forget for a few seconds, maybe someday I'll forget for a few minutes, or even a few hours. I don't want to forget.

I slipped out of her bed and smoothed the wrinkles I'd made. I tucked the sheets, blanket, and spread under the mattress, instead of letting them hang to the rug. The new way I made her bed didn't look right. I was willing to make one small change in her room in hopes I could trap Abby's smell between the covers.

At the second-floor landing, there was no need to peek into my bedroom. The hallway was filled with visible dust motes, and the smell of coffee brewing told me Ethan was already up. My choices were limited. I could creep back into Abby's warm bed. There I could concentrate on the ache in my gut that came in waves every time I looked at the clouds I'd painted on her walls while pregnant. Or I could brave the frigid weather downstairs. I chose to drag myself down the uneven steps, trying to think of something to say to Ethan. In a matter of weeks, our conversations had gone from breezy to bleak.

He sat staring out the kitchen window, all expression washed from his face. He looked like a different person without the smile that reaches his eyes. After pouring myself a cup, I lightly brushed his dark curls with my hand to let him know I was there, and sat across from him.

"Do you ever forget, even for a minute?" I asked.

Now his eyes were deep in the bottom of his cup. "Not yet." He took a sip and put it down.

I didn't ask him if he wants to. I think he does. I'll never forget. I'd rather be pierced by the sword at the sound of her name than forget. Abigail Anna Gray.

"Did you sleep?" he asked. He reached one hand over to my side of the table. "I missed you in bed."

I brought my cup to my lips, desperate to avoid his touch. "A little. Aren't you going to work?" Dressed in navy pinstripes, I knew he was. I thought I could sidestep our new sleeping arrangement by changing the subject.

"I'm going to the police station first," he said. "Do you want to come with me? I could drop you back here before I head to work." His irresistible blue eyes begged me.

I sat up. "Did Caulfield call? I didn't hear the phone ring." Ethan leaned back hard against his chair. His shoulder slump told me what I was sick to death of hearing.

"No, Detective Caulfield didn't call," he said. "The last time I talked to him he said he was going to finish the interviews with the people on Beach Rose and the teachers, and then call us. That was four days ago."

I didn't miss Ethan correcting me for leaving out the word detective —as if I considered the one we got assigned anything but another stroke of unlucky.

I'd met Detective Hollis Caulfield only once, but once was enough to know I didn't like him. His junior officers beat him to our house to tell us an investigation into Abby's death was under way. Caulfield's arrogance beat him to my kitchen on his one-and-only visit. One that had to be protocol, since he had nothing to add to what we already knew before he got here.

No one saw what happened.

Three days after Abby died, Caulfield, in a blazer that didn't cover even a third of his bulk, hauled himself through my antique Cape. My house that had once been a home was filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of tragedy. Teary neighbors holding apple squares and crumpled tissues crowded our family room and kitchen. He gave them sideways glances, right and then left, over a pair of half-moon glasses parked low on his nose, as if he'dexpected them to clear a path for him without even the hint of a polite excuse me. The din fell to a hush as everyone realized he wasn't a prince of a guy. Caulfield was police. I knew right then that he was a royal pain.

Ethan topped off my coffee, still waiting for my answer about going with him to the station.

"No, you go without me. I didn't sleep so much that I have the energy to shower, get dressed, and deal with him. If it's okay with you, I'll stay here. He doesn't tick you off like he does me, and he'll probably tell you more. He strikes me as a lady hater."

"I hate when you do that." Ethan turned his back on me, putting the pot back on the burner.

"What?" I asked. "Come on, you can tell inside of five seconds he's a man's man. He doesn't look me in the eyes when he's talking, and he directed all the answers to my questions to you. He called me the wife, for God's sake."

"So he's tough, you don't have to assume the worst. You're not going to help this thing one bit if you alienate him." Back when we finished each other's sentences, one of us would've rounded out the conversation with a joke. Some kind of you know how Tessa can be remark. Instead Ethan, the diplomat, finished it with, "Okay?"

I didn't like Caulfield. I wasn't going to promise not to provoke him. I would if I had to. All I was willing to agree to was a cease-fire with Ethan. "That's why it's better if I stay home. You go. Come back here and tell me what he says—if you want." It was the best I had to offer.

Our eyes were drawn to the movement outside the kitchen window. A squirrel pranced along the long limb of our maple tree. When he got to the rope that held Abby's tire swing, he jumped to avoid its knot.

Ethan leaned over to kiss my cheek. "I will."

Two hours later, he found me in the same place he'd left me. I was drinking cold coffee.

"You really should eat something, you're going to get an ulcer." He opened one of the four bakery boxes on the counter and handed me a day-old muffin with a paper napkin covered with smiley faces.

"Caulfield pushed me off again. I can't believe this is taking so long. He said the interviews aren't done. He's waiting for the crime scene evidence to be processed." Ethan swallowed. "And the autopsy results."

The one-two punch made by the three words crime scene evidence paled in comparison to the single blow that came with the word autopsy.

"I know. Wenonah Falls is hardly Boston." I started talking because thinking about a monster in a sedan was preferable to seeing Abby on a cold metal table.

"He should've solved this in a couple of days, whether someone saw something or not." I was pulling at a thread hanging from the oversize pajama top of Ethan's I was wearing.

"There wouldn't be anything to solve if it weren't for Abby's teacher," he said. "I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that she didn't count the kids on the way back from the playground." He tried to beat the wrinkles out of his suit coat with his hand.

I pictured Miss Janie with her perfect posture and her indoor voice saying it was only a matter of minutes between the time she came inside Bright Futures and the time she went back out and found Abby in the street.

Abby must have been dawdling, getting farther from the rest of the kids. She was probably humming and didn't hear her teacher say it was time to go back in. She must've seen a flower she wanted, or maybe she found a blue jay's feather. She always collected things, and she treated each thing like treasure. It's hard to believe it only took a few minutes to destroy my family. Abby doesn't have a bright future. I don't have a bright future.

"Tessa, honey, are you okay?" Ethan removed my fingers oneby one from the muffin I crumbled into smaller and smaller pieces. He brought me back to the kitchen, where we hadn't had an uninterrupted cup of coffee in four years.

"So what else did Caulfield say? Don't tell me that's it."

"He said he'll call us when all the evidence is processed, and he'll respond to anything new that comes in, but for now this is where things stand. He told me we have to be patient. We just have to wait."

Even as I did it, I knew I shouldn't be yelling at Ethan. He should've known the words patient and wait are sticks of chalk squealing down the length of a blackboard.

"That's easy for him to say, she's not his child. What good is waiting going to do? I want him to check every car in town. I want him to get out there and find who drove a three-thousand-pound weapon over my thirty-two-pound daughter."

In two staccato beats, Ethan put his elbows up on the table and rested his head in his hands.

day 22 without Abby

Rosemary and Matthew came over this morning. She knows Wednesdays are the hardest day of the week. It's been three weeks since Abby took her last breath.

I was in Abby's room replaying different scenarios in my mind, still trying to figure out how the accident really happened. I hate the word, accident. An accident is when you drop a plate or glass, not kill a child. I spend most of every day sitting in the rocking chair by her window. From there, just about everything is the same. When I get tired of sitting, I walk around and touch her things, and hold them. I smell her sweet little girl scent. Part No More Tangles, part Country Apple body lotion. Her dresses hang in her closet ready to wear. Today, I would've chosen the indigo jersey dress with the little daisies because the three-quarter-lengthsleeves keep her warm on cool days. I picture myself slipping it over her curly head, and then down over her bony shoulders and slim waist. I'd insist on tights. She'd fuss over the seams. Then we'd head down to the kitchen where she'd eat her Rice Krispies with three blackberries, while I'd drink my coffee and read The Runaway Bunny.

Rosemary tried to pull me out of my trance with her cheery mood and fresh blueberry bread. She wore pencil thin slacks, without a single wrinkle, and an electric blue V-neck, off the rack at Lord & Taylor. Rosemary is slightly taller than me, as dark as I am light. Her neat outfit the opposite of my stained sweatpants and sweatshirt. We've been compared for our contrasting looks all our lives. A comparison this morning would have been cruel. Rosemary looked just right, like always, and I looked like something was dreadfully wrong.

I never used to mind her dropping by. Now I'm sick of her pushing me to eat and get dressed, two of a million things I don't feel like doing.

"Come on, Snow. You'll feel better if you take a tub and change. I'll run your bath, and lay out some clean clothes. Okay?"

Really reaching, she dug up my childhood nickname. The only thing Daddy left behind. He called me Snow White and her Rose Red, his way of identifying his daughters born two years apart.

Rosemary looked around, her eyes settled on the miniature stroller that held Dolly. "I don't think you should spend so much time in here." The still life of my daughter's room pulled tears from her lids. "Why don't we go for a walk?" She wiped one eye with an index finger. "It would do you good to get out in the fresh air."

"Stop it," I said. "A bath and a walk aren't going to make everything all better. It doesn't matter what I eat, or what I wear." I wanted to shout, she's dead, but I saw Matthew playing on the floor with one of Abby's horses.

I love Rosemary, but when she's over I'm always on the vergeof screaming. She treats me like a fragile heirloom. Doesn't she know I am the delicate vase that has already fallen off the mantel into a million pieces on the floor? I can't break any more. I hate the look on her face that says, thank God this didn't happen to me. She doesn't know I see it. She keeps it hard to find. I've seen it so blatantly on every other mother's face that I could recognize it through any mask a mother chooses to wear.

On the subject of things I hate: I hate when she brings Matthew, and I hate when she leaves him at home. When he's here, I'm mad because her baby's alive. When she doesn't bring him, I'm angry because she doesn't think I can handle seeing a mother with her child. Perfect Rosemary with her perfect Matthew.

Matthew didn't mind spending time with me in Abby's room. He patted the mane of one of her horses, as he crawled into my lap. "Auntie Tessa, where's Abby? I want her to come home."

Rosemary sat down on the end of Abby's bed, still holding her stupid bread. I buried my face in Matthew's neck. My skin tingled all over from the pressure of holding on to a real child. I was proud of Matthew for asking about his cousin, for saying how he felt, right out loud. He wasn't tiptoeing around it. He misses her and wants her back. Like me.


I dug my journal out of the bottom of my briefcase and pivoted my chair to face the window. My office was overdue for a change, and the view of the park will be inspiring. It's good to be writing again. I love the feel of my pen gliding over parchment. With the turmoil of last year behind me, I'm optimistic I can be more consistent with my entries.

A new client reminded me how therapeutic keeping a journal can be. After only one session, she took my suggestion to write down her thoughts and feelings. I admit I was surprised. She's a freelance writer for magazines, but I didn't think she'd find the energy it takes to write from the heart.

Tessa's four-year-old daughter died in a hit-and-run accident outside her preschool. I knew when I read about the accident in the Globe and heard everyone from the bank teller to the mailman talking about it, that the mother of the little girl would need counseling. It's ironic she chose me.

She's so petite, it's hard to imagine her carrying such a heavyburden. Maybe it's her delicate complexion, or the way she wears her silky white hair caught up in that messy ponytail, but at thirty-three she looks closer to Ian's age than mine. Though she's certainly more confident than any teenager I know.

She walked through the door, shook my hand, and took the seat I reserve for clients. Within seconds, she kicked off her sandals, tucked her legs up under her, and began to tell me about her daughter. At first, it bothered me she had her feet on my chair. A minute later, I was more interested in her story than my upholstery.

Tessa's loss is affecting me more than I'm used to. A little child taken away from her family is the biggest fear for most every mother. Thank God only a few have to endure it. It wouldn't help to tell Tessa the pain eases with time, or that at least she had her daughter at all. Those are tired—some would say heartless—expressions.

They won't help.

I'm thinking of her all the time now. Driving home from here yesterday, her small picture-perfect face appeared out of nowhere. I forced the image back into its proper place, and concentrated on the winding road that leads away from that ocean and toward my home, in the shelter of tall pines and my new husband. It's best to keep sad stories confined to the office.

Then Ian's face took her place. I shook my head, as if I could toss the nagging worry from my mind. I can't let the fear of losing my boy lodge inside my mind, not even for a minute.

At fifteen, Ian's perfect. His wavy hair, sharp features, and height fit together in a way they didn't when he was a little boy. His lanky frame has him towering over me, and no one has ever said I was short. I think he's taller than Alden, too, but who's ever seen a stepfather and stepson put their backs together to compare? Though I've seen Harry a handful of times since the divorce was final, it's been weeks and by now Ian's got to be taller than his father.

Ian and I don't talk much about Harry. I try to be one mother who actually keeps her promise not to criticize her child's father in front of him. Since I can't talk about Harry without putting him down, it's best I leave the subject of Harry off limits.

Try not to put your child in the middle of your marital issues. Respect your child enough to respect his father. Sitting in my ivory chair, watching the rain pluck the colorful leaves from their branches, I hear the advice I gave with confidence to not one but two divorced mothers today. Like so many therapists, I find it easier to give advice than to take it.

day 24 without Abby

I saw Celia today. I didn't notice her icy eyes the first time I met her. Rosemary asked me the other day what she looked like, and I couldn't describe her. That first visit is pretty much a blur—like everything else I've done in the last month. All I could remember was how stiff she was, though her voice was kind of calming.

Today I looked at Celia and her office more closely. The first thing I noticed was how neat the waiting room was; two chairs were angled just right in front of a broad coffee table. Does someone line up those magazines, one on top of the other, or doesn't anyone read while they wait for her? No pictures askew on the walls. No plant leaves dry or dusty. The plaque outside her door that reads CELIA M. REED, PSYD, MFT looks brand new, or maybe someone polishes it along with the furniture. Vacuum cleaner tracks were still obvious on the rug. I had the sudden impulse to mess them up with my cross trainers.

Celia was surprised I took her suggestion to write in a journal. She must toss that idea out to every mother grieving a dead child.

"I'm a writer, so it seemed like something I could do. What else am I supposed to do while I wait for the police to find who murdered my child?"

"You sound angry, Tessa." Celia folded her hands on top of her lap. She made eye contact with ease. "Murder is a very strong word."

I almost said am I paying you for this? You don't need a degree in psychology to call that one. "Yes, I'm angry."

"Anger is an important first step in grief work. It's much healthier to express your feelings, especially the difficult ones. It helps you fend off a deeper depression."

It sounded canned and got me wondering how many times a day she had to say the same things to people sitting in my seat.

"Oh, I know how to do depressed. It's just that if I stand by and let a killer go free to hurt another child, what kind of person would I be?" I uncrossed my legs and recrossed them in the opposite direction. Her rigid pose made me move more, to overcompensate for her lack of it.

"Does the person who killed Abby even know he did it, or was the bastard drunk on a Wednesday morning in October?"

Celia leaned toward me, no more than a few inches. This must be Celia interested. "What makes the police think it was a drunk driver?"

"I don't know what the police are thinking, or doing. The lead guy never calls us to tell us anything."

Celia didn't rush to fill the silence. Her office had grown dark from a mass of storm clouds that gathered outside her window. Without saying anything she got up to turn on twin lamps strategically placed to the right and left of me. She waited for me to finish. I guess she's already pegged me as someone who has a lot to say.

"I can't think of any other reason a person would hit a child, and keep on driving. Who does that?" I asked.

She didn't have the answer either.

I'm not sure Celia can help me. She's caring in that clipped, I know how to get close, but not too close sort of way. She's nice enough; she even insisted I take her only umbrella, because of the unexpected burst of rain that let go right when I was leaving. But there's a lot about her that bugs me. She wore the same pearls and sweater she wore last Friday. She's a little too Mr. Rogers for me. Maybe I don't want to be helped. Maybe I don't want someone caring about me because my insurance company pays her to. Still, I go.

The house, once full of happy noise, television characters solving little problems, high-pitched voices singing contagious jingles—Abby laughing—is so dead quiet now. There's nothing else to do.

I'm not going back to work. I can't see myself interviewing experts about bratty children, or writing answers to questions about fashion emergencies. Imagine not really knowing the definition of the word emergency. How insensitive were we to title a column that? I wonder how many people have been disgusted by our thoughtlessness. I would probably tell someone off by saying, If the only problem you have is whether or not to wear your leather jacket with your linen pants, lucky you, you son of a bitch.

"I don't recommend making any big decisions at a time like this," Celia said. "Maybe you could push off some of your deadlines."

"Too late. I already backed out of all my assignments. I know I'll never ever want to do that again. Work is the least of my problems."

"You're right, in time your work life will sort itself out. I'm only suggesting you keep the door to your magazine work open." She smoothed out the hem of her skirt, even though it hadn't shifted since she sat back down. I covered a stain on my sweatpants with my hand.

"Ethan went back after only two weeks. I don't know how he did that. I told him we could afford it—at least for a little while—if he wanted to take a leave of absence. He said the first two days would be the worst."

I stayed away from him those first few evenings after he'd gone back to work. I hid out in my study, pretending to read sympathy cards, because I knew I wouldn't be able to stop myself from telling him how pissed off I was that he got on with everything so soon. Then one night, I looked out the front window and saw him in silhouette. He was getting his things out of the back of his car. Burberry raincoat. Laptop shoulder bag. Even in shadow, he looked worn-out.

It reminded me of the way he came home from work after Abby was born. He was more sleep deprived than I was back then. In the middle of the night, he'd be the one to go get her. He'd bring her to me for a feeding, and by the light of a tiny reading lamp, he'd hold her fingers while I patted and rubbed her back. The next morning, he'd be up on time and put in a full day's work. He repeated this five, sometimes six, days in a row.

"And were those first days as rough as you both thought they'd be?" Celia asked, her tone sincere.

"He never told me if they were." I was too listless to care if Celia thought I was a bad wife. As it was, I'd already been a bad mother.

"I don't even go to our old grocery store," I said. "I'm not going to put myself through it. Why should I have to look at the pity on their faces, and listen to more superficial I'm sorrys?"

"You might be able to avoid certain things right now," Celia said. "But at some point, you'll have to confront these painful experiences." She folded her arms in front of her. "It's not a good idea to hide from your life, Tessa."

Is Celia for real? These painful experiences. Hide from my life. She doesn't have any idea how painful it is to wake up everymorning in my daughter's bed only to be reminded that my life is over.

No light, no joy, no love. No Abby.

day 27 without Abby

I'm writing in the dark by candlelight. I don't want it to look like we're home. I can't stand the thought of opening the door to children dressed like ghosts, or to candy-mongering teenagers who go door to door to feed their sugar addiction. Unfortunately, we live on a perfect street for trick-or-treating. The houses are close together. Sidewalks carry parents carrying children. There's no traffic on our tree-lined street.

I thought Bright Futures was on a perfect street, too.

Her first Halloween, we dressed her in a pretty nightgown with a princess crown carefully placed on top of her six-month-old head. She slept while we answered the door. Her second Halloween, she hid behind me, peeking out every so often to catch a glimpse of a fairy.

Last year, Ethan took her out around the neighborhood. She chose her own costume, a Cinderella gown, azure blue with silver sequins. She wore it the entire week leading up to Halloween and to bed that night. Weeks later I threw it away. I don't know what I was thinking. We didn't pick out a costume this year. She couldn't decide what she wanted to be.

On what would have been her fourth Halloween, I'm in the dark with Ethan. He's beside me listening to that ridiculous CD about men's grief. I wonder if Father Mike let him borrow it or if he walked into the Wenonah Falls Public Library and asked what they had on the subject.

Ethan. Abby's Daddy. My best friend. My tender lover. I miss him, but he's ahead of me on the road to the place that is life without Abby. I don't want to take the trip yet, and he's alreadyleft me to go there. He keeps turning around reaching his hand out to me. He wants to pull me to where he is. But like Abby used to say about Candy Land, "Mommy, you have to wait until you have the right card to get to the end of the game."

We haven't made love since before. I want him to hold me. I just don't want what goes with it. It's not difficult to avoid Ethan. I spend my nights in Abby's room, and he won't step one foot in there. I could go to him; sex might feel good. I don't want to feel good. After all we've gone through to have a second child—doctor's visits, scheduled sex, endless worrying something might be wrong—now the thought of getting pregnant is unimaginable.

So, alone together we sit, dodging our neighbors. Maybe they had no intention of ringing the bell. Who wants to be the one to remind the Grays they don't get to do this anymore? I thought about the two women I overheard this morning when I stopped to get my coffee. They were complaining about how they hate the cheap costumes, the trick-or-treating in the cold, and the ridiculous amount of candy. I wanted to get in their faces and cry out You don't know what I'd give to have the chance to take Abby out one more time. I didn't get in their faces. I did cry. All the way to the police station.

I took my grande black and went to see Caulfield. We still hadn't heard anything. Whether Ethan liked it or not, one of us needed to confront him about the progress of the investigation.

At the station, people were stealing stares at me while Caulfield kept me waiting his requisite twenty minutes. According to Ethan, it's always twenty minutes; not fifteen, not thirty. Just enough to give you the message you can't drop by unannounced, unless you're willing to pay. I know the type. He doesn't want anyone to get the impression he isn't busy. Caulfield didn't know it wasn't wise to keep me waiting. The longer I sat, the madder I got.

With nothing to do, I counted desks and detectives. Two rows of three mismatched desks, dark wood and chipped. With onlythree occupied, the officers there were drinking soda and leafing through folders like magazines. What I'd wanted to see were police officers running. I wanted to hear phones ringing.

When Caulfield came out of his glassed-in office, he was dripping with excess. His fleshy paw was holding his own oversize coffee. He could've eaten a doughnut off one of his gold rings.

"Hello, Theresa, how are you doing?"

He flicked each syllable of my name at me. I don't know what bothered me more, the thick pity that came with his baritone saxophone voice, or the fact that he still couldn't get my name right. I told him again my name is Tessa, not Theresa. His eyes, the only small thing about him, told me his inability to get my name right was intentional. He didn't know I'd interviewed enough people to know passive-aggressive when I see it. I knew he was trying to build a road block between those who investigate and those who grieve.

"Come into my office, we'll have more privacy there." He plucked a manila folder off the desk of a detective not much older than Abby, and gestured for me to go in. Then he closed the door and opened the file to the investigation.

His office looked and smelled yellow, a combination of a bad paint job and cigarettes. Before I sat down, I noticed two empty packages in his wastebasket. Nicotine gum and Good & Plenty.

"Let's see, I bet you're wondering how things are moving along." He tipped his head, looking down at me over his glasses. "Sad to say, there isn't much to go on. I do have some forensics I'm waiting on: a bit of glass, some paint chips. But no eyewitnesses. No suspects, either." He sat on the corner of his desk. The only visible movement was the scrunching of his eyes and mouth.

"That's it? It's been almost a month. Why are things taking so long?"

"Like I told your husband, I'm doing everything I can. It's not a good idea to rush the folks at the lab. They get irritated if I tryto hurry them along, and I need to be able to call in favors from time to time." He winked. "You understand."

If my arm wasn't so short and his head so far from my seat, I would've smacked him right across his Jay Leno jaw.

"Why can't you ask them for a favor in our case?" I felt a rush of color heat my face. I turned from him, hoping he wouldn't notice he was getting to me.

In the corner of the room, two boxes sat on the floor. I'd heard he was nearing retirement. Though I wished he was drinking a Guinness by some fairway in Florida already, I knew I needed him to find out who'd done this to Abby.

He took off his half-moons, and stuffed them into his breast pocket. "This has got to be the hardest part of my job." He paused. "Sometimes no matter how much we want to know what happened, we just don't have enough evidence. I am so sorry."

"So then what's your plan, detective? You're not telling me you're done investigating the death of my little girl, are you?" I scrunched up my own features to mirror his insincerity.

"I know you'd like me to check out every car in Wenonah," he said. "I can't do that. You understand." He crossed one thick hairy arm over the other, telling me our conversation was almost over.

I moved to the edge of my seat. I clutched my messenger bag and jean jacket to my stomach. "No. I don't understand. I want you to do whatever it takes. Maybe you need some help. Are the state troopers involved yet?"

I was talking loud and fast, thinking maybe I could show him how to be urgent. He stared at me like I was crazy, which made me madder.

"You are planning to get help from people who know how to investigate these kinds of cases, right? After all, you've been a cop in Wenonah your entire career. This might be a little too complicated for you."

He just sat there, so I stood up. "You know, detective, I havecontacts at the Globe and the Herald. If I have to, I can keep this story front and center, along with your inability to solve it. The public loves an unsolved mystery. Especially one about a dead child and her grieving mother."

Caulfield looked beyond me and nodded his head. I saw two shadows move up the rows of desks toward his office door. They reminded me of the suits that had moved up the pews of the church toward Abby's little white casket. Caulfield heaved himself off the desk and opened the glass door.

His voice was low and loud. "Now, now. Of course, we've involved the proper authorities. I'm not saying it's over. You're going to have to be patient. You certainly don't want to sound like you're threatening me, Theresa. This must be your grief talking."

"No, detective. This is me talking. Find out who killed my daughter. Or turn the case over to someone who can."

Without anyone escorting me out, I tried to leave the place with force. Fighting to get one arm through my jacket, I dropped my bag. The young detective sitting at the desk outside Caulfield's door picked it up. After he helped me with my sleeve, he gave it back to me.

"We're working on it, Mrs. Gray," he whispered. "I swear to you, we're working on it."

They'd better be working real hard, because these men can't possibly know how fierce and long-lasting a mother's need to know can be. I'm not going to let this go. I don't care how much of a pain I have to be. Either they find out who did it or I will.

LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER. Copyright © 2009 by Lynne Griffin. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The novel opens with Tessa replaying the accident in her mind, even though she wasn’t there and doesn’t know what transpired before or after Abby dies. Why does she do this to herself? How does not knowing propel the novel forward?

2. Why do you think Tessa secludes herself at home and in Abby’s bed after the accident? Do you think it helps or hurts a grieving person to retreat from the world in this way?

3. What details of mourning a loss—erecting a roadside memorial, trying to capture a loved one’s scent in clothes, or watching old home movies—can you relate to? In what ways are these helpful ways to grieve? In what ways aren’t they?

4. Tessa gets caught up in trying to find answers to the many questions she has about what happened to Abby. She keeps things from Ethan, tracks down repeat offenders and comes face-to-face with them. How were you able to reconcile that a grieving woman would do this?

5. Why is Celia able to help Tessa, but not able to take the advice for herself? Why does she find it so hard to deal with her own feelings? Do you think she was always like this? What information does she share in her journal entries that make you believe she may or may not have been like this in the early days of her marriage to Harry?

6. Tessa keeps her investigation from Ethan. Celia conceals the story of her past from Alden. Harry lies to Celia, and Ian does too. Can you ever reconcile lying to family members? And what does it do to trust, particularly in a marriage?

7. According to Tessa, Celia is “wound a little tight”. She’s at odds with her ex-husband, Harry; she struggles with her relationships with Ian and her present husband, Alden. Did you find it easy or hard to empathize with Celia? Did this change after you heard about her loss?

8. Can you understand Tessa’s fear of having another child? Do you think she really cares what other people think about her pregnancy? What do you think she’s really afraid of?

9. After Tessa announces she’s pregnant, Celia says, “As she spoke—while I listened—I heard her story echo my own, though it rang in a slightly different key.” Though Tessa and Celia appear so different from one another, what aspects of their stories are the same?

10. In the novel, Tessa keeps Abby’s bedroom untouched and Celia leaves a shelf in her studio exactly as it was ten years ago. What role does the symbols of rooms, and cherished belongings, like Tootsie Rabbit and the birthstone necklace, have in this novel?

11. Tessa trusts her ability to read people. She believes that when she looks into the eyes of each repeat offender, she’ll know who’s responsible. And she’s certain Celia couldn’t have known what happened or she would’ve told her. Why is she so convinced of these things? Why do some people trust their instincts, while others so often miss the things others are trying to tell them?

12. How did you feel when you learned who was responsible for killing Abby? Tessa feels differently—less angry—once she learns who did it and the actual circumstances of the accident. Do you think you would experience a change of heart?

13. Would you be able to do what Tessa did at the end of the novel? Did Mirielle play any role in Tessa’s ability to forgive?

14. Does the ending leave you with a sense of hope? Looking beyond the novel, what do imagine happens in the relationship between Tessa and Ethan? Celia and Harry? What happens to Ian?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2014

    This is an awesome book!!!!

    You must read this book its awesome! The story line is great and just when u wanna put the book down u cant! Its a great read i reccomend for 13 years and up.

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  • Posted July 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Choices and Tragedies

    A haunting portrait of two women whose lives converge unexpectedly when the answers one needs turn out to be the other's only chance for peace. Be sure and read "Sea Escape" as well as also deeply moving.

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  • Posted November 10, 2011

    A really good read!

    I had ideas about the story when I picked up Life Without Summer, Lynne Griffin¿s fiction debut, but I was wrong. I thought I knew what was meant by Summer, but I didn¿t. I imagine, too, that I¿m not the only reader who was hesitant when on reading the jacket copy, I learned the story concerned the loss of a little girl, adorable four-year-old Abby. But there was something so compelling in Griffin¿s writing from the very first page: Fall, it begins, day 18 without Abby. This from Abby¿s mom, Tessa, who is foundering in a nightmare of grief after a hit and run driver ran Abby down in front of her pre-school. Other seasons of grief follow, winter and spring, while Tessa grapples with the nightmare of horrendous loss and what she deems the near-criminally inept handling of the investigation by the detective who is assigned to Abby¿s case. But in a way it¿s Tessa¿s anger at this man, and her frustration that sustains her. It¿s her single-minded focus on bringing the driver to justice that creates the shape of her days. Ethan, Abby¿s daddy, who is struggling in his own way, asks Tessa to see a therapist and she complies although in the beginning she questions what sort of help she can get from Celia who, while she is compassionate in her attention to Tessa, keeps her professional distance. Celia has her own story, one that unfolds alongside Tessa¿s and it is in this way that the real complexities of this plot begin to be revealed. Celia¿s life too has been filled with tragedy. There¿s a half-grown son and his secrets, an ex-husband and his alcoholism. There are other things, hinted at, whispering between the lines. There¿s all this nice stuff about a new husband and a new life for Celia and her son. But something feels off about it. This is what is so well done throughout this novel, the feeling it gives of having its own secret. It will be summer before the pages give it up, the answer to the mystery. By then hearts will be broken all over again and then entwined in ways you can¿t imagine

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  • Posted February 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Humane and Caring

    LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER covers the most difficult of topics, the grief of losing a child. Griffin moves between two narrators, the mother and her therapist--a woman with her own secrets. This is presented with a gentle honesty which reveals the authors experience and caring, and includes a plot which keeps the pages flying by.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This book explores the depth of real loss and grief. It is exceptionally well-written and even quite therapeutic.

    The author has used a unique vehicle of expression in the form of character-kept journal entries. Both of the main characters are completely believeable as is the complication of feelings following profound loss. The book is very well-done!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2009

    One of my favorite reads in 2009

    Life Without Summer is the debut novel written by Lynne Griffin. Tessa is a young woman whose life stops when her daughter is killed by a hit and run driver. Tessa isolates in Abby's room, sleeps in her bed and slowly unravels as she tries to comprehend a life without her only child.

    Celia is Tessa's therapist. While working with Tessa, Celia realizes her new marriage may not be as stable as she thinks and learns her son is battling his own problems. Meanwhile, her alcoholic ex-husband is still present in her life and her feelings towards him further complicates things.

    Life Without Summer is written in journal entries. The narration alternates between Tessa and Celia. The reader is privy to each woman's struggle and pain as she tries to heal and move forward. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Posted April 20, 2009


    I had the opportunity of not only purchasing this book but meeting the author this past weekend in a very intimate setting of 4 people incuding the author.
    This is one of the best books I have ever read and I read at least one fiction/literature book a week. Great writing as well as some intersting twists in this book. I only had one question for the author and it was are you going to keep writing fiction and she said Yes! She is going to become a big author.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is an intriguing character study that looks deep into the grieving process

    In a Boston suburb, life had been perfect for Ethan, Tessa and their four years old daughter Abby; until in a second, their child was killed by a hit and run driver near the Bright Futures Preschool she attended. Apparently, there are no witnesses to the vehicular death. After meeting cold aloof homicide detective Caulfield, Tessa concludes the cop will not do any inquiry beyond asking the preschool if anyone witnessed the deadly incident.------------------

    Ethan grieves but Tessa is shattered even sleeping in Abby's bed. Her husband, worried about his wife, persuades her to visit grief therapist Celia, who seems more than just sympathetic; as if they share a commonality. Tessa finds some minor solace using her journalistic skills to investigate her daughter's murder. She draws up a list of potential suspects.----------------

    Celia has married history professor Alden, after her first marriage to Harry fell apart when they discovered a shocker on their sailboat. She moved on, but Harry became a drunk and increasingly depressed teenage son Ian has chosen to live with him. On Tessa's list near the top is Harry.--------------

    This is an intriguing character study that looks deep into the grieving process and the difficulty to obtain personal redemption. The story line uses the investigation as a means for Tessa to try to move on. Journals kept by both women enable the audience to understand what disturbs each of them, making each seem real; although Lynne Griffin conceals critical information from readers that should have appeared in earlier journal entries seems unfair, yet doing this also allows the tension to mount exponentially. Fans will enjoy Celia's efforts to learn who did it.-------

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted June 8, 2011

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