Michigan Notable Book Award, 2010
Best General Fiction, Midwest Book Award, Midwest Independent
Publishers Association, 2010

Season of Water and Ice

Donald Lystra

1950s rural northern Michigan coming-of-age tale

Set in 1957 in rural northern Michigan, Season of Water and Ice is the story of a pivotal few months in the life of young teen Danny DeWitt, who lives alone with his father following the sudden departure of his mother. Bookish and relatively friendless, Danny becomes acquainted with Amber, a pregnant teenager abandoned by her boyfriend and rejected by her family. Both outsiders—one because of disposition, the other because of social stigma—Danny and Amber form an unusual, openhearted alliance that helps each deal with their separate challenges.

Their friendship is tested when Amber’s abusive boyfriend returns and Danny’s mother withdraws more permanently from her family, leading eventually to a crisis that threatens Amber and her unborn child, as well as Danny’s concept of love and manhood.

Danny struggles to understand himself and the confusing and, at times, frightening world in which he lives. His analytically oriented mind attempts to make sense of the rigid stereotypes of the 1950s, revealing startling truths about the abiding issues of love and family and the dangers to which these ideals are continually exposed.

Danny straddles the uncertain gap between childhood and adulthood in this novel that is underscored by themes of independence and obligation, love and sexuality, courage and surrender. This realistic work will appeal to both adult and young adult readers.


DONALD LYSTRA’S stories have appeared in many publications, and his work has received Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. He is a recipient of writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacDowell Colony. A retired consulting engineer, Mr. Lystra and his wife divide their time between Ann Arbor and a farm in northern Michigan. This is his first novel.


“What would you do up here all by yourself?” I asked my father.
He was leaning back against the counter, his arms crossed, the cigarette held off at an odd angle, like a girl. He brought the cigarette up to his lips and took a deep swallow of smoke. “I suspect I’d do what I’m doing right now, Danny, trying to scratch out a livelihood in the north woods of Michigan.” He started to raise the cigarette up to his lips but he stopped halfway. “Which may be another way of saying I’d try to tilt at windmills.”
I didn’t know what “tilt at windmills” meant and I didn’t really care. But I was beginning to understand that my father could sometimes use words to keep the truth away, rather than to bring it closer.
In the evenings my father quizzed me. Standing at the kitchen sink with his hands in soapy dishwater, the sleeves of his white shirt turned up above his elbows, he would ask me to explain the principles of science and mathematics and history that I'd learned that day at school. A good answer earned a brief smile and a stiff nod of his head. But if my performance was sloppy, or I acted disinterested, or sullen, he would cross-examine me until my lack of knowledge was exposed and then tell me to prepare a better explanation for the next evening.