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Winterwood

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Winterwood Book Poster Image
Moody, emo tale of star-crossed teens and haunted woods.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows readers elements of a Gothic tale with romantic overtones, but is largely meant to entertain, not inform. 

Positive Messages

Strong messages about finding yourself and standing up for what matters to you. Also protecting the vulnerable from those who would harm them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There's a whole posse of teens behaving badly here, most of them the reluctant residents of a camp for wayward boys, who lose no chance to get drunk, destroy property, mistreat their various victims, etc. Pitted against them is the spooky, very conscious forest, into which many have vanished over the centuries, and which doesn't take kindly to violations. Against them are Nora, latest in a long line of witches dwelling on the woods' edge, and Oliver, the mysterious boy she finds unconscious in the woods, both of whom are drawn to each other and struggle to do the right thing, showing a lot of courage, resourcefulness, and self-sacrifice amid confusion and uncertainty. Nora's recently deceased and much-missed grandmother, who was both her mentor and comforter, is still a strong presence.

Violence

The disappearance and likely murder of a teen boy is crucial to the plot.Teen characters get into physical fights, force other teens into deadly situations, and engage in run-of-the-mill bullying. Meanwhile, the woods consist of trees that are very aware, very mobile, and very upset about their space being invaded by partying hooligans -- and in one case drag one of them underground to his death. Characters vividly recall drowning experiences.

Sex

Nora comes from a long line of women who stay with the men they love just long enough to conceive the next daughter. Several intense kissing scenes; teen couples sleep in the same bed, with intense kissing and skin contact but no explicit mention of sex.

Language

Multiple "f--k," "s--t," "pissed." Also "a--holes,"  "idiot."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of drinking and some smoking by teen characters. Drunken teens are a common occurrence, and as often happens in scary tales, it doesn't turn out well.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Winterwood, like author Shea Ernshaw's debut The Wicked Deep, is an angst-filled, ominous tale of teens in love, at the mercy of mysterious forces and struggling to find their path. Pacific Northwest Gothic creepiness abounds, including a supernatural forest, a bottomless lake, generations of witches living by its side, and a camp for wayward boys. Everyone is trapped there for weeks with no power or phone service in the wake of a storm, in which a boy has disappeared and is presumed dead. One of the characters has very likely killed him, but some have lost their memory and others aren't talking. Typically for the genre, much of the plot involves drunk, partying teens with cruel, stupid, bullying behavior, who also throw around a lot of strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "pissed," "a--hole") and trash the houses of absent owners after breaking in. Against this, the two teen narrators -- 17-year-old Nora, youngest member of the witch (or so they say) family, and Oliver, the mysterious boy she finds unconscious in the woods -- are trying to do the right thing, help each other, stay out of harm's way, and prevent catastrophe.

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What's the story?

WINTERWOOD takes place in the town of Fir Haven, on the shores of a supposedly bottomless lake in the Pacific Northwest. It's pretty lively in summer, with tourists and vacationing families. But now it's winter, and, in the wake of a storm that's closed the roads and cut off power, few people remain -- and most of them are the unwilling residents of the camp for wayward boys by the lakeside. Also by the lakeside is the home of many generations of Walker women, rumored to be witches, where 17-year-old Nora Walker is home alone, her mom stranded out of town. Word comes that a boy has disappeared from the camp during the storm, and when Nora ventures into the woods, which she has good reason to know are full of mysterious, hostile forces, she finds an unconscious boy, Oliver. She takes him home and revives him, all the while troubled by the sense that something's not right. For his part, Oliver's got the same feeling, especially since there are big gaps in his memory. The two of them are determined to find the truth about what happened in the storm and what Oliver had to do with it, even though they're pretty sure they won't like what they find out. However, staying alive may be a more pressing challenge.

Is it any good?

Fans of angsty, doomy Gothic romance will find much to love in this tale of haunted woods, teens behaving badly, and a star-crossed couple facing dangers supernatural and otherwise. Protagonist/narrators Nora and Oliver are appealing and relatable as they fall in love while overwhelmed with a sense of wrongness and impending doom. But some readers may find there's a lot of foreshadowing, deer-in-the-headlights paralysis, and hand-wringing en route to Winterwood's eventual, and satisfying, payoff.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the theme of people suspecting others of being witches in Winterwood. Why do you think this is a popular subject for storytelling? What other do examples you know?

  • Have you ever gone on a vacation or other visit to a place that's very busy during one season -- like a beach resort in summer, or a ski lodge in winter -- and pretty much deserted the rest of the time? What do you think it's like during the off season, and do you think you'd like to be there then?

  • In Winterwood, Nora's struggling to find herself within the legacy of her ancestors, which her mom tries to reject. Do you know people who are expected to go into the family business and don't particularly want to? Or do they look forward to being part of it?

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