When Mila's brother disappears, she believes he's been taken by the Bear, a hooded stranger of legend who sought shelter at their home. Mila and her sisters follow his trail into the frozen north, determined to find a way past winter and bring their brother home.
Reviewed by Louise Birchall
The Way Past Winter brought two quotations to mind. The first was this from C.S. Lewis: “A children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story” and: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales” (Albert Einstein) was the second.
Let me explain: this story is something exceptional. It is, in essence, a coming of age adventure story firmly rooted in fairy tale and folklore. Intelligently written, Hargraves does not shy away from a challenging narrative. She treats her readers with respect and has created a world full of rich imagery with vivid, almost poetic description.
Hargrave’s depiction of a family whose struggles and frustrations bound tightly with the love and protection with which they provide each other will resonate with readers who themselves struggle to live peacefully with their siblings. The sisters are Mila, Pipa and Sanna. They live with their older brother Oskar in a remote house in the Eldbjorn Forest. As we meet them, they are battling to survive alone (their Mother died in childbirth, and their father vanished a short time later) in a “winter that came, and never left”. One night, a group of strangers arrive, and later Oskar disappears too. The story which follows is driven by the courageous determination of Mila to find her lost brother and reunite their family.
I have read reviews and heard comments celebrating Hargrave for her strong female characters who at first glance, appear to lead us through the story. However, we also meet Rune, a mage of indeterminate age who the sisters could not have survived without. Certainly, a book suited best to high attaining readers age 9+; I imagine there could be some fascinating discussion around gender, family and what drives human beings when they are at their most desperate or vulnerable.
With The Way Past Winter Hargrave delivers a message to children to be brave, to make bold choices in their own lives and to follow their heart through enveloping them in her magical and immersive world. An ethereal, refined piece of storytelling.
You can read another review of a title by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: A Secret of Birds and Bones.