I went through a period of time a few years ago when I was reading almost exclusively Young Adult and Middle Grade novels. It seemed like every time I turned around, another great novel was being published, or a beloved series was on the rise. I have always loved those books because as a child, they offered a sense of adventure, an escape from the tedious stories we often read in school, and as an adult, they offered solace from the reality of the many poor decisions I had made. When I picked up a book, I needed to remove myself from the tedious life decisions that sometimes accompany adulthood, and a large part of me wanted to be transported back to that sense of adventure I felt facing life as a teenager.
More recently, I’ve been drawn to a wider range of genres and I’ve been gratified to find so much pleasure in these less explored territories. I still love books written for younger audiences though, and when I need a break from more serious novels (or the large collection of memoirs I’ve suddenly found myself in possession of), it’s wonderful to turn to a light fantasy novel like Sarah Prineas’ Winterling.
Because I’ve found myself a little out of practice reading for the Middle Grade audience, I was initially surprised by the simplicity of the characters in this book. While I found them enjoyable to read, they lacked the depth I have come to expect from the (frankly astonishing) books I’ve read over the winter. The evil characters were so evil! The good characters so earnest! Everything was black and white, and even if magic was tearing two worlds apart, I was caught off-guard by how straightforward the plot was.
Then I remembered being ten years old and pulling books like this down from the shelf in the library. Back then, my local branch had a very small section of books for teens (especially young teens), and it was always a joy to find a book like this one, with a tenacious female protagonist who wasn’t so unbelievably brave that I couldn’t imagine myself in her shoes. I loved that I knew who I could trust and who was my enemy – life was so much less clear than that in junior high, and books like Winterling provided just the escape I needed. The world created was simple but magical, the characters peopled by hidden allies, and it all took place in an alternate dimension that seemed just barely out of reach.
Finding books like this that appeal to a younger audience (and their parents) but are also well-written are surprisingly rare. I feel strongly that books with difficult content are often appropriate for people younger than they’re written for, and that many younger readers not only like but need those books; however, sometimes it’s nice to read a novel that doesn’t raise the tough questions. It’s like picking up Anne of Green Gables or Howl’s Moving Castle – funny and sweet with a little adventure mixed in. This is a book that offers a few hours of escape, a refuge from homework and texting and endless after-school commitments. It’s tough being a kid; it may look enviable or easy sometimes from where we stand mired in the challenges of adulthood, but the human condition is not a path free of thorns at any age. Sometimes we all just need an afternoon off, and Winterling is a lovely place to stop and rest for a while.
Visit Sarah Prineas at her site here.