“I never mean to do wrong things. I just don’t know what all the wrong things are.” Annie
“Fierce, cruel demon inside me. How could I have hit her so hard?” Meg
Meg grew up in luxury, with servants to do all the housework. She knew when she married Jesse that she would have to learn to do the daily chores herself, and her love for him had made it all possible. Although she had been pampered, she’d had a hard childhood as her mother was distant and cold, and discipline was enforced with blows. Meg is devoted to her children and aspires to give them better mothering than she received, but when Jesse loses his job during the war and leaves her with two young children in a factory borough in western New Jersey while he seeks a job in Boston, the stress of handling everything alone and running out of money exacerbates Meg’s old pattern of lashing out.
Annie loves her mama when she is gentle. Gentle Mama sings to Annie, cuddles her and teaches her, and reads her a story every night. But Annie’s gentle mama is all tangled up with the mama who hits Annie and screams at her. Annie never knows which mama to expect. Annie’s closest companion is her cat, Misty. On Annie’s fifth birthday, Misty gives birth to five kittens. Annie’s happiness overflows. She adores and names each kitten.
The following morning, when Annie returns home from playing with her brother, she inadvertently witnesses her mother in an act of violence that so terrifies her that she takes Misty and her newborn babies and flees to a cave she has found in the woods. She thought the cave would be a safe place, but finds it is not safe. She longs to go home, but cannot overcome her fear of her mama. Nowhere is safe. She imagines that magic elves will come and care for her, but no elves come. All night, she stays in the woods, a night of terror and wonder for Annie, and a night of terror and remorse for Meg.
Leaf Shadows and Sunshine is a story of love, betrayal, shame, and courage, and of a night that becomes an initiation for both mother and daughter.
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“Mother and daughter relationships are primal–learning and growing grounds for life-lessons in complex issues like trust and attachment and of course, love. This is an evocative and redemptive family saga. It is rare for a story to interweave the perspectives of both daughter and mother. Heather does this with rawness, empathy and deep sensitivity to the thinking/feeling world of 5-year-old Annie. I was drawn in on page one.”—Dr. Cedar Barstow, author of Right Use of Power
“It’s hard to say in a few words just why I find this book so magical. In Leaf Shadows and Sunshine, Heather Starsong sensitively portrays the feelings and responses of 5-year-old Annie to her mother’s cruelty. Annie and her brother are temporarily living in poverty with their mother while their father seeks employment elsewhere. Annie, who both loves and fears her mother, runs away to hide in the woods behind their house with her cat and newborn kittens after two violent encounters with her mother. The woods and woodland creatures Annie bravely confronts during her night spent in the wild are a big part of the healing that eventually unfolds. The reader, too, feels this healing, brought about by the kindness of the returning father, but also accomplished by Starsong’s balanced portrayal of the mother’s inner thoughts. Thus the mother, too, has a story and a voice. This depiction of a family in earlier times, before TV and the internet, reveals to us the primacy of family interactions and immersion in nature. Annie is off to a healthy start in life, and her mother has matured in the process. We, the readers, are similarly soothed as we enter their simpler, but deeper world.” — Judith Blackburn, Professor Emerita, Northern Kentucky University.
Thoughtful, Authentic & Healing
This story has depth, and Heather brings the characters to life. They are authentic and imperfect and yet they express the resilience and personal growth that brings out the best in the human spirit. I love the vivid imagery and the emotional qualities this novel evokes. A beautiful story of healing, compassion, and love.