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Winter Town

Review

Winter Town

More than the snow on the ground, more than the break from school (which isn't much of a break at all), more than the tiny, perfect Christmas village his dad builds each year, Evan looks forward to one thing about winter vacation. That would be the annual visit back to New England of Lucy, his former best friend who moved to Atlanta with her mother after her parents' divorce several years earlier. Every time Lucy comes home, it's like time has stood still; they can pick up right where they left off, with their in-jokes, fantasy worlds, and shared hobbies like the jam comic strips they like to make together (Evan is better at drawing, and Lucy is better at storytelling, so they make a great team).

"Those who see themselves as unconventional --- or who are reluctant or afraid to do so --- will find that the book speaks to their desire to create."

That is, until this Christmas, when Lucy shows up looking almost unrecognizable: "She was different. Really different. Her hair was cut short --- not cut but chopped off, making a statement as much as hair makes statements. Dyed black. Her eyes were covered in makeup, and her nose was pierced. The leather jacket was new, too, but otherwise it was Lucy, all right." Why has Lucy undergone this transformation? Why is conversation, which used to flow so freely, now uncomfortable and strained?

Evan would love to get to the bottom of these questions, but he has a lot on his own mind. He's under an incredible amount of pressure to excel at school, given that his parents expect him to attend an Ivy League school in the fall. He loves creating comics, but that isn't the same as a career, is it? What's more, even as he's trying to understand Lucy's mysterious appearance and reluctance to open up, he is struggling with romantic impulses that reach beyond their old comfortable friendship. Winter vacation is short, but is it possible that it could change everything?

Stephen Emond, a graphic novelist best known for the comic book series Emo Boy, shows here (as he did in his previous YA title, HAPPYFACE) that he can offer perception and compassion in both words and pictures. WINTER TOWN is an illustrated young adult novel, with Emond's black and white line drawings illustrating selected pages as well as opening each chapter with a terrifically detailed two-page spread. He also includes panels from Evan's comic strip series based on the fantasy world Evan and Lucy created, a strip that creatively parallels the dramas happening in their real lives.

Although WINTER TOWN occasionally errs on the side of telling rather than showing action (both Evan and Lucy overanalyze their own and others' emotions), and although the big secret of Lucy's reinvention may seem less than earth-shattering to many readers, it is nevertheless an unusual and worthwhile novel. Those who see themselves as unconventional --- or who are reluctant or afraid to do so --- will find that the book speaks to their desire to create. It also addresses a dilemma more and more common among high-achieving young people: the feeling that the choices made in high school are the only ones available to us. WINTER TOWN assures us that, for better or for worse, there's still time for reinvention, redirection and creative change.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2012

Winter Town
by Stephen Emond

  • Publication Date: December 4, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 12+
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316133310
  • ISBN-13: 9780316133319