Author: S.D. Crockett
Publishing Date: 3/27/12
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Blurb (GR): 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?
I feel neither here nor there about After the Snow.
From literary standpoint, the novel is written skillfully. The book's narrator, 15-year old Willo, a half-wild boy raised to be able to care for himself in a world of almost endless winter (Earth appears to be back to the Ice Age in After the Snow), is not of overly educated stock. He can barely read, he speaks in a dialect (akin to Saba's in Blood Red Road or Todd's in The Knife of Never Letting Go) which is sure to put off many readers, if I am to judge by the early reviews of the book. Not me though. Language and the narrative style are the best part of the novel, in my opinion. They fit the desolate, possibly post-apocalyptic landscape and Willo's nature boy persona very well.
The beginning of the novel is particularly enthralling. After coming back from hunting, Willo finds his mountain home empty and his family gone. He suspects that their neighbor, who first impregnated and then married Willo's 14-year old sister, has something to do with the disappearance. So Willo embarks on a freezing cold journey to visit this neighbor and to figure out what happened to his family. He has only his sled with a few necessary for survival items, his knowledge of living in rough conditions and his memories with him. Some of those memories are pure gold:
Magda got her books in that cupboard. Some of them are proper interesting - like the one about every kind of decease a sheep gonna get if you just let it alone and don't go checking under its tail for maggots and under its wool for maggots and behind its ears for maggots. I tell you, sheep must be like a big pile of shit to flies, cos they sure gonna get a maggoty disease just by standing still. Or be falling off a cliff or giving birth in a snowy ditch or some other trouble if you're gonna believe what that book tell you.
(I don't know what it says about me, but I read books for voices like this and and for bits of information like this.)
Things get even more exciting when Willo meets a dying of cold and hunger girl and her little brother in an isolated shack. At that point I was very much looking forward to a survival- in-a-snow sort of story.
To my regret, my expectations never materialized. A series of unfortunate events (involving wild dogs and cannibals!) brings Willo to a government-controlled and guarded city, and here After the Snow transforms from a post-apocalyptic survival story into a dystopia. The settlements appears to be of a totalitarian, oppressive kind, with a very tight security from outsiders and a necessity for everyone to have "papers." But it all made no sense to me. With a lot of military guarding this place, there is very little order inside. And whoever in this regime suggested living in tents (!) in this climate definitely lacked basic common sense. Overall, the main conflict of the story - which is, apparently, a tension between people who live in the "official" settlement and those, who like Willo's parents, decided to live separately and fend for themselves in the mountains - made very little sense to me. The novel lost me then.
I wish I could be more positive about After the Snow and recommend it for more than just the writing style, but I am more inclined to suggest a couple of other wintery reads for those who want something of the kind, but better plotted - Marcus Sedgwick's Revolver and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness.