The Way Past Winter

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Magical Realism – Middle-Grade

My Synopsis:

Mila lives in the dark cold, woods with her brother and two sisters in a small cabin. Their mother is dead, and their father left them for unknown reasons five years ago. Since then, the forest has become perpetual winter, and memories of Springtime and happiness are fading. One evening a stranger and his fellow travelers come to their home asking for food and shelter, but the next day when they are gone, Mila’s brother is missing. The sisters debate whether he left them to join the traveling men or was he taken against his will. Mila insists on going after their brother and so begins a daring adventure north through fierce winter landscapes mixed with magic and folklore that she and her sisters are afraid may actually be true.

Why I Picked This Book:

I love Middle-Grade books, and I was looking for something with a simple feel to it. I didn’t want a modern story and, (being on winter break), I was hoping for somethings snowy and cozy. It seemed to have the perfect amount of magic laced through it without being doused in magic and fantasy, and oh yeah – the book jacket mentioned sled dogs.

What Was Disappointing: 

I read it too fast. I wanted a book to last me through the winter break, but I finished this in about two days.

Why I Kept Reading:

I read it so fast because the author took me away from reality. The characters were so well-rounded I easily felt apart of their family. The simplicity of their home and family life was akin to that of Laura Ingalls, albeit without all the details. Although there was a bit of predictability, being a middle-grade novel, it was the perfect amount. The story unfolded not in a way that makes a reader disappointed because they knew the writer’s secrets, but in a way we all say in life “I knew it!” when we really didn’t, but suspected to arrive at a certain point or outcome. The longing for that affirmation and for the reveal of what we didn’t know, kept me going on almost as fast as Mila’s sled dogs flew across the frozen north.

Take Away: 

I will read this book again. I know I will. There are stories inside of stories with this book. Although the author could make this into a series of spin-off books and tales it doesn’t need to. It stands alone and stands strong. Much like its characters. The bond between sisters and the strength of their spirit is so beautiful and well done. The author very simply has females in most of the roles and if I weren’t telling you this now you may not have even noticed. There is no talk about being tom-girls, no talk about expectations for women, and the author also doesn’t shy away from letting the girls swoon over men. They are just unapologetically who they are, and they happen to be girls. I also love how there is no really clear “hero” in this story. Pieces of the puzzle unfold so naturally and those who need to be there to play their parts arrive to be in place so naturally it felt more like a true story than one about cursed forests and magical islands in the icy seas of the north.

Final Thoughts:

It’s been a long time since someone created a new fairy tale that had all the elements of actual folklore. No pretty princesses or beautiful castles, or handsome heroes. This is a simple tale and is told in a minimalist way without a ton of flare and fantasy that is saturating novels these days. This book has plenty of myth, gore, truth, and good old fashioned storytelling that will have a reader of any age turning the pages while pulling up their blankets around them to keep out the haunting winter that seeps out of its very pages.

Post-Script:

I have to wonder if Dusha and Dayna would have liked Flora the pig.

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