Fifteen-year-old Willo was out hunting when the trucks came and took his family away. Left alone in the snow, Willo becomes determined to find and rescue his family, and he knows just who to talk with to learn where they are. He plans to head across the mountains and make Farmer Geraint tell him where his family has gone. But on the way across the mountain, he finds Mary, a refugee from the city, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. The smart thing to do would be to leave her alone — he doesn’t have enough supplies for two or the time to take care of a girl — but Willo just can’t do it. However, with the world trapped in an ice age, the odds of them surviving on their own are not good. And even if he does manage to keep Mary safe, what about finding his family?
Oh man, remember how I recently admitted to hating things written in verse? Yeah, well, nearly as bad is characters speaking in dialect, and this whole book is written in dialect. Like, the narration is basically the thoughts going through Willo’s head. He wears a bleached dog skull on his head, and he frequently refers to the dog as if it’s alive. The dog also speaks to Willo directly. Somehow. I had a really hard time getting into this one, to be honest. Stream of consciousness is not my ideal format for a novel, and I mentioned the dialect thing. I sat around on chapter two for days before I could get past it. I also had a hard time imagining this happening in Europe, probably because I associate Willo’s dialect with the Appalachians. I don’t know. I just didn’t love this one. There’s also an allusion to rape in the beginning that made me super uncomfortable. Willo’s sister, Alice, who’s fourteen, is made pregnant by a neighbor, an older man named Geraint. Not long after that, trucks come and take Willo’s whole family. So, my introduction to this book was incredibly depressing, which is not what I’m going for when I read. Eventually, however, I got used to it and it pulled me in.
This is a pretty legitimate dystopia. It even incorporates putting sick babies out on the mountain for the dogs. There’s a lot of dying in this one, and death is what introduces us to Mary. I feel horribly for poor Mary, because she’s young and alone and confused, no matter how hard Willo tries to explain things to her. They have to escape a pack of wild dogs, and Willo plans to leave Mary by the powerlines, where government trucks will hopefully pick her up and take her back to the city she came from. Mary’s not really feeling that idea though. When they come across some cannibalistic “stealers” in the woods, they’re saved by a woman named Moira. Moira has a gun and lets Willo and Mary join her convoy, though the others in the truck aren’t happy about it. I really liked this part. It’s all well and good to hear Willo’s regurgitation of his father’s ideas, but I wanted to know more about the world outside. These people are living a hardscrabble life, ruled by the government, by the police, and they’re so cynical that I can relate. There is unrest here, and I was curious to see how it all played out. And after all this, Willo and Mary enter the city.
There’s more animal abuse going on that I don’t want to talk about, but the city is a mess. Lawless gangs, drunks, the worst of society becomes all that’s left of society, it seems. Willo goes off on his own, which proves to be a bad idea, and I found myself thinking of Legend by Marie Lu. This book is more about climate, but the scenes with Willo and Mary feel a little like how I imagine Day was when Tess first started following him. Anyway, Willo is learning that the city isn’t safe, and fast. I felt like this whole city part was so, so bleak. Dogs being abused, kids on opium, gangs killing people, nothing anyone can do, and the whole time it’s freezing. People will kill you for your coat. It’s so sad and intense, like, is this what our grand society will become? All we worked towards, will it be defeated by snow? Will it render our men and women rapists and murderers, because human rights and decency don’t exist anymore? That’s scary. Really scary. Some things are also nonsensical. Why are there so many gangs if the city is so controlled by the military? Why are people living in tents of all things? It doesn’t sound like the snow came too long ago; what happened between then and now? There are a lot of loose threads and unanswered questions. (There’s also a moment where Willo meets an old man who speaks like Yoda, complete with the “mmm” noises and everything.)
When the twist hits, I was floored. I wasn’t expecting it at all! I will tell you that I loved Chinatown in this novel. It’s the only place where there are lights and fires, because China, not America, is now the promised land. They own everything, including the nuclear reactors. Scary, right? We haven’t seen Mary since almost the middle of the book by the time the twist hits, and both Willo and I miss her. Willo’s ignorance frustrated me more and more near the end of the novel. I know it’s not his fault, but it’s obnoxious. Things we already know and understand need to be spelled out for Willo in excruciating detail. Usually more than once, too. I managed to feel sorry for him despite the annoyance, though. Poor Willo. This whole novel is hard on him. I read a review somewhere in which the reviewer states her disbelief that strangers would help Willo, but once you get to the twist, I think it’s pretty obvious.
So all in all, I enjoyed this book but only after the first third or so. It make take some time to get used to Willo’s dialect, but the tale is compelling, despite my problems with it. It’s pretty intense and realistic, and Crockett kills more than one animal in the narrative. I sort of love how dark YA has gotten. This book is dark! And that’s what makes it good, if you ask me.