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Friday, November 9, 2012

'Winter' by John Marsden

From the BLURB:

For twelve years Winter has been haunted. Her past, her memories, her feelings, will not leave her alone. And now, at sixteen, the time has come for her to act. She must head back to her old home, where a pair of family tragedies forever altered her life. What she discovers is powerful and shocking -- but must be dealt with in order for life to go on.

Winter was four years old when her mother and father died; drowned in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Now sixteen, Winter is coming home to Warriewood – it’s the first time she’s been back since becoming a ward of the state, cared for by her parent’s trust-fund and waiting to inherit the property when she turns eighteen. 

In the meantime Warriewood is being managed by Ralph and Sylvia – a couple Winter doesn’t entirely trust, who have let her old homestead go to ruin while they suck the Warriewood property dry. 

But upon her return home, Winter finds that the past is not quite ready to be put to rest. She has questions; about her mother’s death, the distant relatives she never knew she had and the shadowy memories that come flooding back. 

‘Winter’ was the 2000 stand-alone novel from one of Australia’s most beloved young adult writers, John Marsden.

I've been feeling a bit nostalgic for the young adult novels of my actual young adulthood. I’m from a very lucky generation who grew up with the YA genre, so was never lacking in reading options throughout my teenage years. And as an Australian, I really had a superior reading list to choose from – among the first YA novels I read were those by Melina Marchetta, Nick Earls, Margo Lanagan, Jaclyn Moriarty and the wonderful John Marsden. It’s a testament to these fine Australian young adult writers that they’ve stood the test of time (teen-time, no less!) and are still widely read and published today. And being that I’m a complete bibliophile, I don’t throw books away – ever. So I have a few ‘vintage’ Aussie YA novels, if you will. I was perusing my bookcase and John Marsden’s ‘Winter’ stood out for me. 

I remember reading ‘Winter’ when I was younger (about 12 or so) but the story was hazy for me. Whereas other Marsden books stick out prominently in my mind (‘Checkers’, in particular for that ohmygod curveball ending) ‘Winter’ was bringing up a bit of a blank, beyond remembering that I really loved it. So I thought it warranted a revisit and, honestly, I so enjoyed re-reading that I think I might have to do more retro re-reads of my favourite early YA books.

The book opens with a prickly introduction to Winter De Salis, as we meet her returning home after twelve years away. Winter is rude and combative to Sylvia and Ralph, the seemingly nice caretakers of her parent’s old estate. By her own admission, Winter doesn’t do well with impulse or anger control and we see that in the first few chapters. It’s an interesting introduction which instantly puts readers on the back-foot, thinking this is a nasty young woman with a chip on her shoulders. But, that’s part of the beauty of this novel in which nothing is as it seems.

As the story unravels we learn of Winter’s tragic past – an orphan by the age of four, living in boarding schools and waiting for the day she turns eighteen and can become her own woman and accept full responsibility for Warriewood. In the meantime, and at the age of sixteen, Winter is coming home to put persistent demons to rest – to know what really happened to her mother, and to confront the dark, unfocused memories of her childhood;

I didn’t want to look any more, didn’t want to see the terrible sight. I ran and ran and ran, down the long tormenting white drive of my memory, down the long black bitumen road of terror, and at last, as I reached Warriewood, between the stone gateposts of my childhood. 

It’s only when Winter starts opening herself up to the past that she starts accepting the future and living in the present. She does so by crushing on Warriewood neighbour, Matthew Kennedy, and befriending local girl Jessica McGill.

‘Winter’ is a quiet novel, as many of Marsden’s books tend to be. Marsden really does excel at lulling readers, and writing sleight of hands that distract us from the monumental wallop we’re going to be dealt before the final page. This is also true of ‘Winter’, which has a dark climax and explanation for Winter’s haunting memories. That’s part of the beauty of a Marsden novel – he sneaks up on the reader and leaves you with big questions to mull over once all is said and done. I especially like that he does leave the reader with questions – he’s not a fan of writing definitive answers or wringing out character’s responses. Part of the fun and gravity is that he leaves readers to make up their own minds and decide what they’d do if put into a similar situation. 

Again, as with most Marsden novels, ‘Winter’ is relatively short – a mere 135 pages. He doesn’t need much more than that though; Marsden always starts stories from the meatiest part – in ‘Winter’ he certainly could have started earlier, even with a prologue of Winter’s four-year-old self. But there’s something very satisfying about a book that starts at the highest point of action, when all the balls are in the air for the character and readers meet them at the most important moment of their lives.

‘Winter’ was as satisfying a read the second time round as it was the first. Thankfully for me, I forgot the sneaky curveball denouement and was given the opportunity to read the jaw-drop all over again. This book reminds me why Marsden is one of the Aussie greats, and makes me thankful that I had such a good young adult reading foundation growing up. 


1 comment:

  1. Great review. Thoughtful, insightful and well written.


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