Winter by John Marsden

From the back cover:
For twelve years, Winter has been haunted. Her memories will not leave her alone. There are secrets she does not remember—but needs to know.

The time has come for her to go back home.

Every journey starts with a single step. But sometimes if you want to step into the future, you must first step into the past…

After reading Checkers, So Much to Tell You, and Take My Word for It, I realized that John Marsden has a certain… preferred pattern. In each case, something profoundly traumatic has happened to the (Australian) teenaged heroine and the slim book consists of her first-person narrative as she attempts to work past whatever it was, while gradually divulging enough tidbits to enable readers to figure out what happened. In many ways, Winter is very similar, though in this case, the titular heroine begins the book as in the dark as anyone else.

It’s been twelve years since sixteen-year-old Winter De Salis has set foot on the family estate of Warriewood. Both of her parents died when she was four, but she wasn’t told much about them by the relatives with whom she spent the intervening years. Now old enough to leave school and return home, that’s exactly what determined Winter does, and makes short work of dispatching the dishonest caretakers of her property while questioning anyone who might provide some useful information concerning her parents’ deaths. After making friends with a girl around her age, enjoying a bit of romance, and uncovering the family secret, she is eventually able to face her future without obsessing over the past.

Despite the structural similarities to other Marsden books, Winter doesn’t much feel like them. Its setting is more rural, for one thing, so there are sections like the one describing the cathartic process (for Winter) of removing unwanted blackberries from the property, or the depiction of her first attempt to take care of the cattle by herself. Winter is a unique protagonist, and I love how Marsden shows her capacity for being difficult—when you’re underage and you want something strongly, sometimes the only weapon in your arsenal is being stubborn—while simultaneously showing that she really is a good kid. She’s grateful for kindness and not so wounded that she can’t make new friends, and posits at one point that perhaps the early death of her famously strong mother is what has enabled her to become so strong herself. It’s a pretty devastating truth that she learns, but it’s believable that she is able to move on from it and not dwell too long on questions that will never have answers.

My only minor quibble is that the romance feels somewhat superfluous; granted, it plays an important role in demonstrating Winter’s progression from someone fixated on the past to someone anticipating the future, but I would’ve liked the boy (Matt Kennedy) to be a more well-rounded character. I’d almost wish for a sequel—perhaps a story set twenty years later with Winter and Matt as parents to a new protagonist—but I suppose that would require something traumatic to happen to their offspring, and we wouldn’t want that!

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