Year of the Amphibian
by Christopher Pickert
Wingseed Press

"The woods whispered now, leaning into sleep, and a breeze shattered the moon into a thousand dancing shards."

Home is where the heart is, at least to fourteen-year-old Conrad. After his parents' divorce, he longs for the peaceful wilderness that seems to call to him at his dad’s place in the woods, not like the concrete jungle he’s forced to live in most of the year in Los Angeles with his mother and two sisters. During brief excursions, he’s reunited with the beautiful wilderness that he so longs for. But for most of the year, he’s stuck in the hustle and bustle of city life. Can Conrad adjust to life in the city, or will he run to where his heart desires?

The story takes place over the course of a year, showing the progression of Conrad as he grows and develops during that period of time. A unique feature of the story is that the author doesn’t move from one chapter to the next in the typical linear fashion. Instead, each chapter focuses on a specific time frame, such as late February or early March. This enables the reader to see only the significant points in Conrad’s life rather than the day-to-day details.

Conrad is an interesting character himself. While sometimes coming off as pretentious and snarky, the author’s character development makes the reader sensitive to how a teenage boy growing up in this environment might feel. It places readers in Conrad’s shoes, often showing his vulnerable side of being drawn back to where he feels he belongs while still trying to fit in this new environment he’s surrounded with. The nature in which this narrative is presented is also interesting, and almost the opposite of what you might find for this type of story in modern times. Instead of a boy coming from a big city and having to adjust to a small town, you’re flip-flopped to a boy coming from a small town and going to a big city, a plot that harks back to older stories from when much of the American population lived in rural settings. It comes across as a refreshing change, allowing the readers to see how growing up in such a small section of the world can affect a young boy, especially one who is trying to cope with the breakup of his parents’ marriage.

The family dynamic between his sisters, mother, and father is also interesting. It doesn’t descend to the often-abused plotline where one of the parents becomes unfaithful during the marriage, and the family is torn apart in that regard. Instead, it gives a realistic view of what can happen when two people have such different views of how they want their lives to be but aren’t able to compromise. It’s a fascinating aspect that isn’t overplayed but is brought up every now and again to remind readers of the background all of these characters are coming from. This coming-of-age story will strike home for many readers. It’s one that a lot of people can relate to, as it dives into the innocence of childhood and the struggle of trying to grow up in the modern world—especially in a divided family like the one Conrad finds himself in.

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