Welcome to the very first of my new style of reviewing books! Now that I've expressed my thoughts in a (predominantly) spoiler free manner, I want to talk about this book with a hypothetical audience that has already read it. Without further ado, here is an all-in discussion of Winter Town by Stephen Emond.
Alright. It's no secret that there are a great many things about this novel that thoroughly pissed me off. From chapter one, Evan's inner monologue was all too unbearable. (And alarmingly familiar, considering the way my brain worked in sixth grade.) There's barely a single moment where he stands up for himself. He always just goes along with what his dad wants while at the same time having no plans and no drive to do anything but graduate from college. Although I doubt it's the uncertainty that pisses me off. I think it might be how often he waits for the rest of his family to come to his defense when his dad starts badgering him about something related to college. Like, it takes his mom talking about how pitiful his social life is before his dad backs the fuck off.
And then when Lucy suggests comics, it becomes his entire life goal. Fine, granted, there might have been some of that in his future plan before, but the way Evan based everything he did on other people was more than a little infuriating.
Speaking of how annoying I find Evan to be, let's talk about the absolutely horrendous way he treats Lucy when she first shows up in the second chapter. My god, it's like he's trying to make the conversation as awkward as possible. There were numerous opportunities for him to just talk and break the ice, but apparently Lucy changing her appearance makes that impossible? Evan sure seems like one of those people that has this perfect vision for life and it takes everyone being just the way he likes them in order for it to work. Judging by his completely un-called for reaction to Lucy's appearance, that's probably true. I'm sorry, I just can't tolerate a character who is bothered by facial piercings that much.
You can also easily see how Evan viewed all the situations he was in via the pages of comics at the end of all the chapters. I actually really appreciated this extra touch of material for me to character-analyze, but knowing his perspective kind of made him look like an asshole. (Not saying he isn't, by the way.) After chapter two, where the only problem he and Lucy actually have is completely normal tension, he interprets it as Lucy lashing out at him for no reason. ("P.S The tower's dumb, anyway. P.S You're dumb, too." jesus) This was the first of many points in the book that made me want to chuck this book twenty feet across the room. I actually, did, after Evan decided to never talk to Lucy again after they had "fallen in love."
Lucy was definitely a better character in my opinion. I loved how the story kind of built up to the reveal of what she was really going through back home. When her backstory was finally written out in the book, I ended up feeling real sympathy for her. The scene where she tells Evan is very well-written, despite how much I thought her internal qualms kind of interrupted it. But, that is easily made up for by the way her apprehension is portrayed. Even though I felt it was uncalled for, it was very real and authentic, which, when this book manages to do, it does it well.
Too bad that's overshadowed by more problems. (Ah, they never stop, do they?) If you weren't already aware, I'm a really big fan of books that represent people that are LGBTQ+. Now, I'm not saying Stephen Emond writes like he's never met a gay person in his life, but he writes like his main source of information about what people who are gay is a YouTube comments section. Tim and Marshall are very enjoyable, lovable side characters, but they're also walking stereotypes. Think about it: wanting to work in performing arts, acting "flamboyant," somehow constantly throwing their orientations on everything. That being said, I always like to give stereotypical characters the benefit of the doubt and say, "hey, maybe these characters are just like this for no reason and it's a total coincidence." But, I have one question for all the aspiring writers out there and that question is: "How misrepresentative can you get?" Any challengers?
I also vaguely remember the presence of other characters, like Ben and Katie, but I only vaguely remember them because they didn't seem at all relevant to anything. They're like those strawberry-flavored candies you keep finding in the back of your cupboard: they're just there. You never bought them, you never wanted them, they just kind of show up.
Speaking of characters that don't exactly matter, I want to talk about how Evan and Lucy were really, really stiff around each other. Evan (get it?) after the book started getting them all caught up in that love story. They have all these awkward interactions before then, even, to the point at which I wouldn't even believe they had been best friends for years. Does this author know how to write a conversation that goes smoothly? If not, I totally get it now.
Although, despite all the problems I have with most of the side characters, I should also mention how much I appreciate Evan's grandmother. She's all kinds of awesome. Even when Evan and Lucy have gotten themselves into the most awkward written conversation of all time, Gram is always there to save the day! I'll definitely say she's the best of literary comic relief.
Speaking of comic relief, where's the rest of it? I'm not saying this book is completely dark and absolutely serious, but all the characters are weirdly angsty. A casual two-family Christmas just up and turns into the most emotional scene of all time. What the heck? Did I miss something?
Speaking of the most emotional scene of all time, am I the only one who was super disappointed when Evan and Lucy started making out? You know, I was hoping this novel would just be about best friends getting to know each other again and accepting each other's flaws. That scene where Lucy was freaking the fuck out and Evan tried to comfort her was about to be a ridiculously cute platonic moment, and then they started kissing and I felt personally attacked.
One thing I can say for the romance, though, was the fact that it was not overpowering. (Although I may not be the best source of information for this conclusion, as I'm romance repulsed and can barely tolerate a simple, romantic 'i love you' in a book before I start getting grossed out.) There were a few melodramatic scenes, especially when it first started and then during the last chapter where Lucy left to go back to Georgia. But the romance is probably that way because it wasn't actually necessary. I wouldn't be surprised if this book was originally written without it completely.
Well, that's all I can say about this book before getting bored and mentally exhausted.
See ya on the flip side.