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Love is Not All Rainbows and Butterflies in Stephen Emond’s Winter Town

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“One boy. One girl. One not-so-epic love story.”

I bought Stephen Emond’s Winter Town last December, the last book I purchased in 2012. I remember leaving Barnes & Noble when I spotted the cover. The cover didn’t strike me as anything spectacular, but I am always intrigued by stories about best friends. Besides, I thought it would be a trip reading this in the winter.

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Winter Town was the next YA novel I read after Love & Leftovers. It took me a few pages to adjust from novel-in-verse to conventional narrative. While Sarah Tregay used poetry in Love & Leftovers, Stephen Emond incorporated art and and comic strip illustrations in his second novel after Happyface, making it also slightly different from other YA novels.

The story of Winter Town revolves around two best friends, Evan and Lucy. They lived their whole lives together until Lucy moved away when her parents divorced. Every winter, Lucy would come home and visit Evan. All was going well until one day “the former ‘girl next door’ now has choppy black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl.” Could this be the end of a friendship, or the beginning of a new relationship? Regardless, Evan was determined to find Lucy’s old self.

Evan found himself placing any observation of Lucy into one of two categories: Old Lucy and New Lucy. Sarcasm was borderline, but he’d give it to Old Lucy. New Lucy was moodier and quiet, and, dare he say, emo. It amused Evan to know how much she’d hate it if she knew he was thinking this. She’d probably give him a bruise somewhere. That’s so Old Lucy. – p. 56

I enjoyed reading Winter Town as much as I enjoyed reading Love & Leftovers, the former dealing with bigger teen issues than the latter. Given the cover, the title, the mood, and the setting of the story, Winter Town was a heavier read. I like the story for its simplicity, and I like how this story is not too mushy. It is, after all, a story about two best friends. There is a right amount of love, friendship, family, and the bitter stuff in between. I like the awkwardness between Evan and Lucy and how it builds up by the minute.

Evan’s attempt to find Old Lucy reminded me of that scene involving the little match girl.

In the flinty light she saw her mother, who lived in heaven, but who now leaned forward with her smile, her bright and matchless eyes.

As the vision faded, the match girl despaired, and she lit match after match, to hold the vision. Her mother looked so inviting…

- Gregory Maguire, Matchless

To me, it seemed as if Lucy was Evan’s source of warmth during winter. However, with New Lucy surfacing, winter was colder and harsher than before. Each matchstick that the little girl lit represents Evan’s successful attempt at finding Old Lucy. Brief and momentary, then eventually gets lost in time and space. How much of it is a love story? I leave that for you to find out.

In the About Me section of his website, Stephen Emond noted, “I would label myself a creator, I guess, or maybe storyteller. I focused solely on drawing in my youth, wanting to be a comic book artist.” As I have previously mentioned, Stephen Emond utilized comic strips in the book.

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Like Stephen Emond, Evan was an artist. (I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Evan’s story contains bits and pieces of Stephen Emond’s life.) Evan started a comic strip called Aelysthia, a world that he and Lucy created and imagined themselves in. Winter Town shows how art becomes both as a medium of expression and an escape to reality. At the beginning of the book, when Evan first encountered New Lucy, Evan and Lucy drew and switched the sketchpad in between panels. Art was a way for them to express themselves when they were at a loss for words. They hang on to Aelysthia because it seemed to be the only place where their two worlds collide.

My favorite character in the book was Gram, Evan’s grandmother who stays with his family. She is the ‘supporting character’ who sits in a corner and always has something profound to say. I like Gram because she is the glue that holds not only Evan’s family together but also Evan and Lucy themselves.

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Evan and Lucy’s moments with Gram were moments of epiphany for them. The wisdom of the old never fails. As much as I love typing away and quoting Gram (as I have already shamelessly done so by posting the picture above), you would be better off reading the story yourself.

I don’t know what it is about this book but reading Winter Town made me want to watch My Girl again. Best friend stories are epic, especially if there is tension between the friends. The book also reminded me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and that final scene in the book had a 500 Days of Summer feel to it. Winter Town is more than a “not-so-epic love story.” It is a story of two young adults making their separate journeys, in hope that someday their paths would intersect.

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About Fats Suela

Cloud chaser. Sky walker. Tale weaver. Smile painter. Dream believer. Heart stealer. Book gatherer. Star-child of the universe.

6 comments on “Love is Not All Rainbows and Butterflies in Stephen Emond’s Winter Town

  1. I loved Perks of Being a Wallflower and if Winter Town has that same tone, then I’m sold. I think David Levithan is another pretty solid YA writer. Although I’ve only read his (and Rachel Cohn’s) Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares. But I loved it. It’s a fun read and also not too mushy for my taste. :) And I’m glad that you have another good YA read in this one, because as you once said, it’s been a love-hate relationship. Will there be more YA for you then? :D

    • I have only seen the movie of Perks of Being a Wallflower, so I can’t guarantee how similar Winter Town is to the actual book. I just happened to re-imagine scenes from the movie while reading parts of the book. Here’s to hoping that you would like it as well in case it turned out to be different from Perks. Iphigene likes David Levithan, and I actually just borrowed his book, Are We There Yet?, from our library. I first encountered him with Realm of Possibility but I didn’t get a chance to finish the book.

      For the remainder of our Crazy Over Cybils bimonthly theme, yes I’ll be reading more YA novels. After February, I don’t mind exploring more YA books. I don’t like the really mushy YA novels. It makes me cringe. LOL!! I like just enough wit, humor, and cute sweet scenes. I have about 5 or 6 YA novels that I borrowed from the library, waiting to be read, so please do watch out for our reviews. =)

  2. Ooohhh I think I’d like to read this too. Thanks for the review :)

  3. I love how you linked this review with Maguire’s “Matchless” – and the notion of a vision that is there but slowly fading by the minute. Then there are bright glowing radiant patches and the darknesses in between. This sounds like something I’d enjoy too. :)

    • There are other things that can be noted about this book, especially about the characters of Evan and Lucy, and how male and female were portrayed in the book. One thing I noticed, though, with Love & Leftovers and Winter Town was how it was always the women who end up troubled and feeling helpless. There’s that stereotype of a princess in distress waiting for her knight in shining armor. I would love to read more about stronger female characters in YA fiction.

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