... deeply moving and beautifully paced ... Nothing is simple, easy or predictable in Wes’ story, yet it is highly believable and inspiring, and a thoughtful study of the complexities of family and the nature of true belonging. Winter Loon is a page-turner, beautifully rendered, and a most impressive debut.
Debut author Susan Bernhard doesn’t drown the reader in Wes’ guilt and self-loathing over his mother’s death, nor the depression he feels over being abandoned by his father. She has a knack for capturing the duplicity of his treacherous emotions, as he dips into denial and hope simultaneously like a jar of honey tainted with flies ... While this narrative may be waterlogged with despair at times, both in Wes’ own experiences and in the sordid secrets of his family, there are enough infusions of hope to keep Wes, and the reader, moving forward.
Living with the pain caused by other people in pain, the protagonist has a resilience that's almost beyond belief—really, it is hard to believe ... Bernhard shows that she is not afraid of difficult or touchy subjects, illustrating the prevalence of classism and racism in the lives of the inhabitants of her fictional small town, but she doesn't go beyond the surface in her exploration of systematic prejudice. The problems, like the characters, are underdeveloped. As the novel progresses, Wes uncovers repressed family secrets so horrendous that the reader might find some passages difficult to read.