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Winter Light

4.78  ·  Rating details ·  54 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Fifteen-year-old Mary Donahue of suburban Chicago is a kid on the cusp of failure during the brutal blizzard winter of 1978-79, the end of a hard luck, hard rock era sunk in the cynical aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Though a smart, beautiful kid, she’s a motherless girl raised by an uneducated, alcoholic father within an extended family of alcoholics and addicts. Aware that
Paperback, 260 pages
Published October 6th 2020 by Vine Leaves Press
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Average rating 4.78  · 
Rating details
 ·  54 ratings  ·  41 reviews

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Tom Gillespie
Sep 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There is something very beautiful at the heart of Winter Light. At first, I feared this would be just another well-worn tale of a self-obsessed teenager’s descent into nihilistic oblivion. But author Martha Engber plays a blinder, and within a few pages, the depth and complexity of this masterful story begin to weave a mesmeric spell, as Mary, the central protagonist, battles to escape the domestic and socio-economic shackles that bind her to an unwanted fate. There is so much to love about this ...more
Penny Lapenna
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Give this book a chance. I started out thinking it was normal teen YA territory, but quickly got a sense that this character went deeper than the average teen read. It's more like Shameless meets Catcher in the Rye!

This author knows that some teens have really been around the block a few times before they leave school. And yet, they still want what all kids want - security, love, hope, friendship, a place to belong, new pj's and some sweet treats. But the real world is out there lurking, and bef
Carolyn Russell
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Winter Light is a marvel of a book.
Not everyone makes it through a tough childhood. Martha Engber’s novel follows Mary, a teen we root for at every turn as she struggles through hers. Mary’s day to day blunders, small victories, and survival techniques are rendered with a keen and compassionate eye.
Engber's prose perfectly captures the textural details of adolescent life in1978. These evocative descriptive passages give true weight, and an essential lived-in quality, to Mary’s fight to come bac
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
At first I wasn’t into Mary, a teen who only wants more but had no idea where to start. Then, the pace kept me interested and as I got to know her, I was rooting for our protagonist. Stay wit it, it’s not your average YA. Great Read.
Joylene Butler
Aug 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Winter Light is a wonderful story about a girl who never asked for any of the crap that's happening to her. She wants to save herself, but like most teenagers, she's doesn't know how. And besides, who can she trust? Fifty years ago, I knew a girl like Mary Donahue; she was one of the lucky ones. Today, there are too many girls struggling, just like Mary, and there shouldn't be. Scholastic needs to choose this novel for its school curriculum. ...more
Melanie Faith
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Mary, the protagonist of Martha Engber’s Winter Light, is a teen character to root for. Her familial struggles, secret hopes, and unexpected setbacks make this a page-turner, as does the vivid prose descriptions and authentic dialogue.

Set in December 1978 until March 1979, the pacing crackles and moves at a satisfying clip. There are suspenseful plot twists until the very last line of the final page.

The adult characters are well-rendered, featuring realistic human foibles, good intentions that
Carolyn T
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Winter Light is the story of Mary Donahue, a teenager struggling to find her way when her destiny seems predetermined. She knows she doesn't want the life she is heading towards but finding a way out appears all but impossible. A compelling read, keeps you rooting for Mary until the end.
Jessica Belmont
Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved everything about Winter Light. From the cover, to the plot, and the characters, this book drew me in and kept me invested all the way through.
Mary is a teenager who is very easy to relate to and cheer on. The struggles of finances hopes, and setbacks created a pageturner that I really enjoyed.
I think this author’s strong point is dialogue. It was so authentic and it really helped me understand the characters.
This was an excellent read. Highly recommended!!
*I received a
Doreen Ashbrook
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very dark. That being said, I found this book to be mesmerizing. Jane, the main character, is a teenager with ample smarts, but life just won't cut her a break. After being disappointed and knocked down again and again, she is in search of just one person who will validate her existence. The last few pages tell it all. Sad, but wonderful at the same time. Thank you Goodreads Giveaways.

Annalisa Crawford
Aug 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Heartbreaking and absorbing, this novel explores the idea of nature versus nurture, and the way you live to the expectations of your peers and surroundings, even when you step back and see your situation with the eyes of an outsider.

Despite being a 15-year-old burnout at school, Mary holds down a steady job to support her family, and wants a better for her family, especially her beloved brother Danny - more so for him than for herself. But, oh how hard it is to turn your back on everything you k
Phill Provance
Aug 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Martha Engber’s novel, Winter Light, is a superbly realistic invitation into a chilling urban landscape. A period piece set during the bitter Chicago winter of 1978-1979, we are dropped squarely into the rough, fifteen-year-old life of Mary and all the nervous teen energy orbiting her as she maneuvers for survival.

She endures her days with her loose gang of friends, hardly getting by in school, watching for the next party to score drugs or beer. It’s a constant struggle that's often fraught wit
Fee (Ebook Addicts)
Oct 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, read-in-2020
Winter Light is set in the winter of 1978 and the harsh realities of Mary's life. She is a burnout, her mother died her father is an alcoholic and she is very away that her life will go on a downward spiral. One day she strikes up a friendship with a preppy girl Kathleen and she gets a glimpse of what life could be like for her if she had the opportunity.

This was a heartbreaking, gritty read and as you read on you can't help but root for Mary to get the life she wants, but at the same time every
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was so invested in the protagonist, a fifteen year old girl named Mary, and her battle to survive. Her instincts lead her to fight fiercely for herself but the poverty and violence present in her life and the lives of her older brothers created a nearly impossible wall of despair to climb. She befriends a classmate who lives a life so unlike her own, she dares to imagine a plan and a path to a better life for herself. The contrast between their lives adds both hope and tension to the story. Th ...more
Catherine Thrush
Some kids learn early and often that life is not fair. It is, in fact, cruelly unjust. So do you give in, and take the road life has laid out for you that leads to disappointment, numbness, and substance abuse like the rest of your extended family? Or do you fight to forge your own road? Well, if you’re our hero, Mary Donahue, you fight. And that’s why we love this character.

Mary is intelligent, street-smart, and determined. She may not always know where she’s going, or how to get there, but she
Gina Troisi
Oct 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Martha Engber’s Winter Light had me from the very first page, and her characters, so true to life, reached the deepest parts of me. I was right there with the novel’s fifteen year old protagonist, Mary Donahue: on the streets of Chicago during a frigid winter in the year 1978, walking through the halls at her high school, fully immersed in her life and psyche—her colorful, raw and honest world.

This is one of the best novels I have read in a long time. It asks difficult questions about the meani
Daniel Halabe
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I’m not much like Mary, the central character in 'Winter Light'; and, as I began to read, assumed I wouldn’t much like her. I knew a couple Marys growing up in a midwestern suburban public high school and wanted little to do with them, but the light in 'Winter Light' provided a sharp picture of Mary and Katherine, her preppy mirror image. It got me thinking about the kids in my past, wishing I had considered them with more empathy.

Like all adolescents, Mary and Katherine are searching for the pe
Carolyn Russell
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing

Not everyone makes it through a tough childhood. Martha Engber’s novel follows Mary, a teen we root for at every turn as she struggles through hers. Mary’s day to day blunders, small victories, and survival techniques are rendered with a keen and compassionate eye.
Winter Light perfectly captures the textural details of adolescent life in1978. These evocative descriptive passages give true weight, and an essential lived-in quality, to Mary’s fight to come back from a series of wrong
Deanna Rozak
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The author challenged me in the beginning of the book and I feared the story would be a familiar one, but the story quickly began to evolve, I was gratified to discover that the characters surprised me and the story was not the one I assumed it would be. The writing was very effective in evoking the typical adolescent angst coupled with the very difficult, adult circumstances faced by the main character, Mary. The story is well paced and carries the reader along in an unrelenting grip on its jou ...more
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
EBook Review: WINTER LIGHT by Martha Engber

(W) here
( I ) n
(N) ature
(T) he
(E) nemy
(R) eigns

(L) et
( I ) n
(G) oodness
(H) ope's
(T) omorrow

WINTER LIGHT may shine bright, yet darkness remains.
The way may hold promise, given a chance.

Once thought safe in numbers, alone no different.
Where in life can turn, find some peace?

Awaiting an answer out there, to take root.
Will it arrive in time, recognize when comes?

Story puts it before us, holding on tight.
So glad I kept reading, so will you!
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mary Donahue is a burnout, the lowest on the hierarchy at school. She drinks, she does drugs, she parties, and she ditches school. But then the reader sees her change and she slowly becomes friends with a prep want-to-be, Kathleen McCarthy. She meets Kathleen’s family and bonds with Kathleen’s mother, Mrs. McCarthy. And just when she thinks her life is changing for the better, tragedy strikes which makes her rethink her past relationships. At this turning point, she picks herself up and faces li ...more
Karen Andrew
Sep 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is extremely well written detailing how hard it can be growing up. It took me a while to get into but once I did, it had me gripped. It deals with daily struggles within a world on uncertainty.

The characters are well developed and Martha has a clear special connection with them.
Jan 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The main character of this story, Mary Donahue is 15, growing up in the late 70's, a troubled girl with so many obstacles in front of her. I rooted for her all through the book. There are scenes that had me teary-eyed and heart broken.
This story is set during a bitter cold Midwest winter & Engber brings that into the book to add to the desolation & toughness of the main character's life. Mary will get under your skin, I highly recommend this book!
Joylene Butler
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this novel. Winter Light is the story of Mary Donahue, a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks, who struggles to rise above her circumstances. This story tugged at my heartstrings. It's a darker coming-of-age story. Mary's dad is an alcoholic, her brother's into drugs, and most of her friends don't care about tomorrow. Mary's the kind of girl you'd pass on the street and pay no mind to her. Martha Engber made me cared about Mary. I highly recommend this novel if you're looking for an ...more
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book from start to finish. Even though I grew up in a completely different environment (rural Finland) than Mary, I felt totally immersed in the Chicago winter and Mary’s struggles. It’s now been about a month since I finished reading but scenes from the book still linger in my head. Highly recommended!
Byddi Lee
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A tightly written story that packs a punch!

Right from the start, we know that 15-year-old Mary Donahue has a tough life. Her mother died when Mary was a small child. Her father is an alcoholic, and only one of her three older brothers is on Mary’s team. Mary hangs out with the burnouts in her school, spending more time partying than on homework but when Mary strikes up an unusual friendship with one of the Preppy girls in her class Mary glimpses a better life, and wants it.

Martha Engber, pulls n
Joanne Nelson
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Winter Light by Martha Engber

Warning: You won’t be able to put Winter Light down. Sleep will be missed.

Martha Engber’s third book, Winter Light, operates on two levels. First there’s the story of teenager Mary Donahue. A girl from the wrong side of everything. We follow Mary as she struggles to find a way forward out of poverty, loss, and the low expectations of those around her. Her path is littered with poor decisions—not only her own, but those of everyone she loves. We watch as she begins t
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Mary Donahue is a fifteen-year-old fighting a nasty Chicagoland winter and her own demons. She’s bright but cuts class, acts tough but has a good heart, and is older than her years but not wiser. We’re treated to insightful and often snarky observations as she navigates the rough terrains of high school and adolescence. Mary and the other characters (teen and adult) spring to life through crisp dialogue and situations that ring true. She suspects that life could be better and risks a friendship ...more
Ann Epstein
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As Darkly Bleak and Crystalline Bright as its Title – Winter Light by Martha Engber can be as darkly bleak and as crystalline bright as its title. Fifteen-year-old Mary has nothing going for her except grit. She also has good looks and a brain, but the first makes her a target while the second makes her smart enough to see what a bad hand she’s been dealt. Mary’s mother died when she was five, her alcoholic father is abusive, her friends are burnouts. She’s poor and shivering through the harsh C ...more
Theresa Milstein
Sep 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I connected with Mary's voice from the first page. Right away, I knew her attitude was hiding pain. I was intrigued. And the book didn't disappoint. Although she had a tough attitude in school, she was trying to do the right thing as more of her life spiraled out of control. Mary had those instincts to seek out people who might help her, but her background meant she didn't seem to quite trust them either. While I got frustrated over some of the choices she made, I got it. By the end, I was on th ...more
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Martha Engber's next book club novel, WINTER LIGHT, is now available to order ( ). A journalist by profession, Martha  received a 5-star “original and highly recommended” rating from the Midwest Book Review for her literary novel, THE WIND THIEF The author of GROWING GREAT CHARACTERS FROM THE GROUND UP, she’s also had hundreds of articles published in the Chicago Tribun ...more

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