The First Signs of April
by Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe



She Writes Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-631-52298-7.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 08/20/2018

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships; Nonfiction: Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender

Imagine you are an adolescent struggling to understand your emerging sexuality along with forging a new life in a new community. This is exactly where we meet Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe. Her parents have just downsized from urban to suburban and, in that process, Briscoe has lost everything familiar. Most importantly, her longtime friends.

In her new school, she first meets Kathy, who is "kind enough to talk" to her. Then Joy, a fragile classmate who is often invisible behind the long dark hair that covers her face. As Briscoe forges ahead, she joins into activities her new friends engage in: being a Girl Scout, even though she's a tomboy, and a member of the drama club.

She is not strongly bonded to her parents and learns to be silent at a young age. Her immediate family, like many families, does not express or talk about feelings. Her mother's sister, Aunt Pat, is similar in that way but is also a constant source of humor and fascination at family gatherings. Even though they are not close in her younger years, Briscoe knows Aunt Pat is someone she can count on.

The author frames this story by weaving two pathways of her life in parallel fashion. Each occurred nearly twenty years apart. When I first entered into this intricate labyrinth, I wasn't sure it would work. Happily, I was wrong. With skill and poignancy, Briscoe threads the devastating suicide of her first love with the later death of Aunt Pat. During the earlier trauma, Briscoe lives in silence for two decades with the wounds that so profoundly affect her. Later, when she cares for Aunt Pat during her terminal illness, she'll discover she's unknowingly entered into a healing odyssey.

The First Signs of April is a 2017 Sarton Book Award finalist. It is also an outstanding example of the power of writing the truth of one's life as an act of healing. I highly recommend this beautifully written, deeply honest, and tender memoir.


Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe, LCMHC, CCTP is a licensed mental health counselor currently on sabbatical from her private psychotherapy practice in northeastern Vermont. After spending a year living on the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland working on her next memoir she is currently splitting her time between Cape Cod, Vermont and Ireland. Mary-Elizabeth has a masters degree in clinical mental health counseling from Lesley University and is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. In addition, she has worked as a Lecturer at Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies St. Johnsbury, VT Campus. Mary-Elizabeth loves riding her motorcycle and spending as much time as possible with her dog Fergus.

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