cover image Frozen Summer

Frozen Summer

Mary Jane Auch, Mj Auch. Henry Holt & Company, $16.95 (180pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4923-7

Even better than its predecessor, Journey to Nowhere, this sequel gets its title and some of its exceptional historical color from the dire weather conditions that afflicted New England and New York in the summer of 1816. As 12-year-old Mem, the narrator, recounts, June 6, 1816, is a date ""nobody in the Genesee Country of New York will ever forget."" The day brings the first of a number of freak snowstorms and late-season frosts that kill the crops and threaten survival. For Mem, whose family moved from Connecticut the year before, the day is even more momentous: during the sudden blizzard her Mama gives birth to a baby girl then slides into a terrible depression. Homesick for her family and demoralized by the rigors of pioneering, Mama slips into one of her ""spells,"" and these become more frequent and more severe as the cataclysmic summer unfolds. Though she longs to be attending school, Mem takes over the chores in their one-room cabin and lovingly cares for both baby Lily and their five-year-old brother, while their father stubbornly conceals his wife's condition from neighbors and others who would offer help. Though the story is often heartbreaking, it concludes on a hopeful note, after a final tragedy unclouds Papa's vision and helps him recognize his family's needs. Auch's attention to the unromantic details of pioneer life, combined with evocative description and unusually involving dialogue, gives her work uncommon dimension. Ages 9-14. (Dec.)