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The Winter People

Review

The Winter People

Rebekah L. Purdy's debut novel, THE WINTER PEOPLE, chronicles protagonist Salome Montgomery's battle with a generations-old family curse --- since the 18th century, Montgomery women have fallen prey to the mysterious, malevolent force lurking in the family woods. During the winter following their 18th birthdays, dozens of Montgomerys have vanished under suspicious circumstances. With her own 18th birthday fast approaching, Salome resolves to unearth the dark secrets blighting her family history --- before it's too late.
 
While I'm no stranger to the joys of escapism, THE WINTER PEOPLE over-idealizes Salome's relationship with her love interest (whom, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I've chosen to call "X"). Not only does X brave murderous witches, bewitched lakes and lecherous jocks as he gallantly speeds to Salome's rescue, he also whisks her away for a midnight ride on a literal white horse. Did I, a heartsick, boy-crazy teenage girl, smile at this dazzling display of sappiness? Yes, yes I did. But, although X's adoring antics delighted my inner damsel-in-distress, they also lent his character all the complexity of a Hallmark card. Classic Malley—to avoid being shipped off to boarding school, she takes off with some guy she met online. Poor Richard—he knows his cousin’s in trouble before she does. Wild Skink—he’s a ragged, one-eyed ex-governor of Florida, and enough of a renegade to think he can track Malley down. With Richard riding shotgun, the unlikely pair scour the state, undaunted by blinding storms, crazed pigs, flying bullets, and giant gators.
 
Although X's larger-than-life feats of affection struck me as a tad excessive, I could have tolerated his lovesick antics had Salome done something to warrant them, But, throughout THE WINTER PEOPLE, Salome resigns herself to a somewhat passive role in her family, her relationships, and, most jarringly of all, her quest to break the curse. For the novel's first 150 pages, Salome's efforts consist of her questioning her mother and grandmother, their telling her absolutely nothing, and our somewhat listless protagonist resigning herself to her relatives' ambiguity. And, even though Salome later conducts some fairly intensive research regarding the curse, Purdy only shows us glimpses of Salome's progress. Since the family curse constitutes the crux of THE WINTER PEOPLE's plotline, I would've appreciated a touch more emphasis on Salome's struggle to unravel it.
 
Furthermore, though a generous dose of eerie, supernatural incidents pepper the novel, Salome's quest for a cure progresses somewhat glacially (aren't I punny?). Though the flurry of occult happenings adds pep to the novel's otherwise plodding plotline, because these events escalate faster than Salome's ability to comprehend them, threats to our MC's life left me scratching my scalp in confusion, rather than yanking out my hair in suspense.
 
The casual, accessible tone of Purdy's prose brilliantly contrasts with her macabre premise. 
 
Though the casual, accessible tone of Purdy's prose brilliantly contrasts with her macabre premise, her writing's littered with unoriginal similes. For instance, Salome might run across her lawn "as if she were running a marathon", or refer to her love interest's blue eyes as resembling sapphires. Unfortunately, these stock comparisons may overshadow the few truly penetrative similes glittering among Purdy's frank, unassuming prose (such as Salome's remark that "reading those letters left a bad taste in my mouth, like biting on a rusty nail).
 
While I enjoyed THE WINTER PEOPLE's chilling, imaginative riff on traditional fairy tales, the novel's under-elaborated backstory fails to distinguish itself from the plethora of fairy tale rewrites currently crowding bookstore shelves. Furthermore, throughout her first-person narrative, Salome repeatedly alerts the reader to any clues regarding her family's curse, which, though helpful, deprives the novel of subtlety.
 
Rebekah L. Purdy's THE WINTER PEOPLE amused me with its creative premise and frank, accessible tone, but this fairy tale-rewrite lacks the originality needed to distinguish itself from the veritable onslaught of similar YA novels. 

Reviewed by Alison S., Teen Board Member on September 23, 2014

The Winter People
by Rebekah L. Purdy

  • Publication Date: September 2, 2014
  • Genres: Supernatural, Youth Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Entangled: Teen
  • ISBN-10: 1622663683
  • ISBN-13: 9781622663682