Winter Town - Stephen Emond

*mild spoilers. 

 

Lesson #1 Please Refrain From Writing Characters Thinner Than Medical Dictionary Paper

 

Evan is a prime example of a character of this nature. It has come to my attention that it is entirely possible that the author wrote a one-sentence description of Evan and then made sure that all of his actions followed that model. I see virtually no depth, little to no drive in Evan's mind until the last five pages of the novel, and the bitchiest inner monologue to grace the pages of Young Adult fiction. This realization is one of the very things that continues to scare me out of reading The Catcher In The Rye to this day. In rereading this novel for points I could use in this review, I also noticed that Evan doesn't even have an individual will. All of his life aspirations are built around the things his father has told him. And when he's with Lucy, everything he does is an action directed by her.  The grand future he ends up building for himself is pathetically unoriginal. I'm unsure if he actually does have any thoughts or goals that didn't originally belong to other people. Evan is also distastefully judgmental, and proves again and again that when he's not acting as a completely co-dependent entity, he's a gargantuan lump of foul deformity. 

 

The other side characters seem to exist only for the purposes of centering the attention on Evan and Lucy. Having weak side character game isn't automatically equivalent to having a huge problem, but when one of your main characters is completely and utterly intolerable, you may want to invest in side characters that are multi-dimensional and interesting, even if the reader spends barely a page on them. Dull and cookie-cutter side characters are a sign of sloppy plot construction. 

 

I only managed to find one exception to the host of boring characters, and that was Lucy. The way she is constructed, her depth, her past, her thought process, is actually a refreshing twist on an entire town filled with dull, meaningless characters. Her independence, her drive, the way she saw the world were all fantastic, if a bit pessimistic, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading from her perspective. Even past the beginning of an unnecessary subplot. 

 

Lesson #2 Romance Is Never, Ever Your Only Option 

 

Now, is romance in books a bad thing? No, not necessarily. But going through this ordeal of getting to know the two main characters and becoming familiar with their friendship and personalities is hardly rewarded with the start of a love story in the middle of the book. For one thing, the start of the novel didn't focus on their romance at all. I was under the impression that this entire novel would be about them fixing their friendship and bonding again, but I was sorely mistaken and extremely disappointed when an emotional crescendo turned into nothing more than a cheap romance. 

 

It wasn't true to the characters, it wasn't believable, it wasn't enjoyable, it was just an ordeal, and a rather cringeworthy ordeal at that. 

 

(show spoiler)

 

 

Can I read about best friends, just this once? Please? 

 

Note) This would not necessarily be considered a spoiler because this novel was marketed as a romance. I was simply too foolish to read the summary and get the hell out of there when I had the chance. 

 

Lesson #3 Make More Things Happen

 

I read books first and foremost for excitement. I have the desire to read about characters that go on adventures and experience dramatic changes in their personalities and beliefs and values. I want to read about things that are grand and marvelous. Most of this novel took place in a situation that was all too "business as usual." The scenes that are the most important had a trend of being dull. I remember, at first, admiring how real I thought this book was, but as I finished it, I realized that boring is not equal to real. I put this book down for an entire two days because I no longer possessed the drive to finish it, and that's kind of a bad sign. 

 

Lesson #4 If You Want To Write A Comic, Just Write A Comic

 

I also noticed, as I read this book, that it would work so much better as a graphic novel. Granted, not a graphic novel that I would necessarily enjoy, but reading this book feels like looking at the lines from comic strips and then having to plow through paragraphs and paragraphs of filler. It was choppy and thin. In the end, the prose wasn't even necessary. This book is sort of integrated with illustrations and comics and that would work fantastically for an actually enjoyable story, but under these circumstances, serve solely as a reminder that this story should have been a large set of comic strips in the first place. 

 

Lesson #5 Something In A Book Will Always Be Good 

 

Now, I did just give you a list of the major problems I had with this book. That being said, I also managed to find a few things worth enjoying. Those things are certainly few and far between, but those are what pulled this book's rating up to three whole stars of my approval. 

 

1. The Chapter Titles!

It was actually kind of funny to me that more people didn't notice this in their reviews. If you haven't already figured this out, but each chapter title is actually a Beatles/Brian Wilson/Beach Boys song title. When you look closely at how the content of each chapter relates to the song it is titled with, there's actually really well-thought out links. Near the end of the book, the chapter titles are more densely Beach Boys songs, and I noticed how they kind of tied in to how the story began to focus on Lucy and what she was going through. The playlist and the story work really, really well. I loved the way both of those kind of built up together and I'm really glad I noticed it. That means this book gets extra points. 

Song List (If you want to look them up.) 

Chapter 1 - A Day in the Life by The Beatles

Chapter 2 - Across the Universe by The Beatles

Chapter 3 - I'm Looking Through You by The Beatles

Chapter 4 - Carry That Weight by The Beatles

Chapter 5 - She Came In Through The Bathroom Window by The Beatles

Chapter 6 - Fixing a Hole by The Beatles

Chapter 7 - Nowhere Man by The Beatles

Chapter 8 - In My Life by The Beatles

Chapter 9 - The Little Girl I Once Knew by The Beach Boys

Chapter 10 - Heroes and Villains by The Beach Boys 

Chapter 11 - Let's Go Away For A While by The Beach Boys

Chapter 12 -  Couldn't find the actual Chapter Title) Fairy-Tale  by Brian Wilson

Chapter 13 - Fall Breaks and Back To Winter  by The Beach Boys

Chapter 14 - Wind Chimes by Brian Wilson

Chapter 15 - God Only Knows by Brian Wilson 

Chapter 16 - Hang on to Your Ego by The Beach Boys

Chapter 17 - Getting Better by The Beatles 

(show spoiler)

 

2. How Fantastic The Comics Were

Perhaps it was not the way Stephen Emond intended people to receive the book, but I liked the comics Evan and Lucy drew of their fictional fantasy world way more than I liked the actual story. Those were really well-paced and incredibly enjoyable. I genuinely believe that this author's strengths lie entirely in writing graphic novels rather than normal ones. 

 

I also noticed a fair amount of planning and intricacies within the story through connecting the comics to it. Using them for the purposes of foreshadowing was genius! The place drawing held in both Evan and Lucy's lives was actually believable and genuine, and I just blatantly enjoyed how their fantasy world drove their real actions. Nice job on that one. 

 

And, as a plus, the illustrations were just cool. They're part of the reason I feel cheated because this book isn't a comic. 

 

3. The Good Scenes 

Despite the abundance of scenes I didn't enjoy, there were a few I actually did. In a couple of places in the novel, the friendship between Evan and Lucy was a major tug on the heartstrings, and I greatly appreciated it. I also loved reading all the dynamic scenes with other characters, especially. 

The one in the chapter 'She Came In Through the Bathroom Window' where Lucy sees Evan's mother and grandmother for the first time in the book and plays a board game involving a pile of plastic zombies is my particular favorite. 

(show spoiler)

In the end, it's decent as far as contemporaries go, but I think the potential in the concept 'guy hasn't seen his best friend for a year and she seems like a completely different person' was wasted with dull characters, a boring plot, and a pointless addition halfway through the book. 

 

But, hey, I'm more into science fiction and fantasy anyways. I'd probably have been far more satisfied reading about a real magical world rather than a protagonist that writes one.