If you’re going to judge a book by its cover, here’s your book. Wintertown, by Steven Emond, is a fantastic character study of two kids on the cusp of adulthood and the winter vacation they always spend together. I’ll elaborate later, because the story is quite wonderful in and of itself, but the first thing that you need to know about Wintertown is that it’s PRETTY. I mean, seriously pretty. Just look at that quiet, dreamy cover. Love it!
Evan and Lucy have been friends for as long as they can remember. When Lucy’s parents split up, she moved away and only comes back for two weeks a year during the winter holidays. Wintertown is the story of this final holiday before they graduate from high school.
What I loved so much about this book was the way that Emond created a lovely character study of not just Evan and Lucy, but of their relationship to each other. Everything felt real in his portrayal of them, from the initial awkwardness of their first meeting after a year apart to the flashbacks from shared memories that eventually bring them back together. The book is divided into two sections, with the first half written from Evan’s point of view and the second from Lucy’s. I loved how seeing the story through both their eyes made their characterizations so much richer. From Lucy’s point of view, we can see her struggle between being the person she had been for so many years with Evan and the person she has become since leaving the comfort of their day-to-day friendship. Evan’s struggle is even more complex, trying to juggle the expectations of his family, Lucy, and even himself and figure out which version of himself he wants to become.
One of the wonderful things about the book is the way that Lucy and Evan communicate. They often create “jam strips,” or small cartoons where they each add a panel. These jam strips are woven into the story in such a way that often, Lucy and Evan will be having one conversation out loud and an entirely different one on paper. You can see their relationship evolve not only through their words and actions, but through the cartoon versions of themselves as they journey through the imaginary land that Evan and Lucy created together as children. Coupled with gorgeous full page illustrations at the start of each chapter, the graphics of the novel bring another important layer to an already rich story.
My one complaint about the book is the same one I’ve had with my YA novels I’ve read lately – too many cultural references. Had there been no mentions of iTunes, Amazon, and Sue Sylvester, the story would have been much more timeless. It could have been the winter of 2010 or the winter of my own senior year of high school (most definitely NOT 2010). Those references nudged me out of the story in places where I was really sinking into it, relating back to my seventeen year old self and all anticipation/hope/sadness/anxiety/happiness that comes with that final winter at home. But that complaint is a minor one, and ultimately this is still one of the best YA books I’ve read in a while. Definitely pick this one up when it’s available in December.