I am posting three YA reviews this week instead of just one because this summer I have loaded up on the YA a bit. Instead of backlogging all those reviews to far distant Fridays I thought I might as well dedicate one week to YA.
Author and Illustrator: Stephen Emond
Genre: YA, graphic novel (kind of), contemporary fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
Read for: Fun
Ed and Lucy have been best friends for years. And even when Lucy's dysfunctional family life results in her leaving their hometown except for brief visits in the winter, even when Lucy doesn't talk to Ed for months at a time, somehow their friendship never falters. However, Lucy has some secrets about the life she is living away from their hometown, and Ed isn't sure how to deal with the more intense version of the girl he has known all his life.
Wintertown is a quirky book. It's mostly told in novel form with a few illustrations interspersed, as well as a comic between chapters that Ed is working on. First of all, I loved the art. I haven't read many graphic novels (I think the grand total before Wintertown was... one) and I am not entirely comfortable with that medium, I guess. However, the art in Wintertown added to the story. I especially loved the drawing of Ed -- he was exactly how I would have pictured him, and the second I saw his picture I wanted to hug him. Wintertown is told in third person limited, and the first part of the book is from Ed's perspective while the second part is from Lucy's perspective. I thought this was also very effective -- in the first part I came to really be endeared to Ed while feeling some frustration with Lucy's character, but by the end I understood more of Lucy's actions and motivations while also realizing that Ed wasn't quite perfect (yet).
I also loved the general theme of Wintertown. I've always been enthralled by good girl-boy friendships, and I'm not of the school that think those friendships are ruined if they mature into romance (although it is sad when those romances prematurely end the friendship). I have been lucky enough in my own life to have a friendship slowly turn into love, so I'm a big advocate of those close friendships. I think it is something about connecting on a level other than just attraction. Ed and Lucy have this strong relationship of supporting each other, of having fun together, and of understanding each other, so when the romance finally creeps in, while it rocks them off balance for a while, it seems natural and inevitable.
In addition to the theme of close boy-girl friendships Wintertown plays with two other themes I found intriguing. One was that of needing to suffer in order to really experience life. I think this is absolutely true, although it sucks to admit it. You can definitely more fully experience the beautiful parts of life when you've been exposed to the ugly. The other theme I loved was that of things not always happening at the right time, and being patient enough to let them unfold. I think in our culture specifically we have this desire for instant gratification. If you want to know something, google it and the answer will be there. If you want a new book, press a button on your Kindle and it's in your hands. However, the best things have to mull and mature. Just because something isn't right at the present moment doesn't mean it never will be.
I loved the way Emonds explored those themes and the way Lucy and Ed discussed and thought about these deep questions. I remember in high school having hours-long conversations about why things were the way they were, what life and love were all about. Reading Winter Town made me so nostalgic for those days. Honestly, while none of my high school experiences were really like those of Ed and Lucy, the feel of the book reminded me of high school. I remember going through those torrential emotions and trying to make sense of life -- reading about these two characters really brought me back to that.
I don't know how other people will respond to Wintertown, to be honest, because I responded to it on such a personal level. However, I think it tells a different story than many YA novels, and it uses some unique devices to tell that story. Wintertown is definitely worth checking out.
Warnings: Mature themes, brief strong language, spoken references to sexuality