Book Review: Winterfolk
By: Janel Kolby
Published By: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Page Count: 320
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Young Adult - Contemporary
I fully admit that I picked this one up simply because of the Seattle setting. The Pacific Northwest is my favorite backdrop for fiction as well as daydreaming. I miss living in the Seattle area and I love reading about intriguing characters in that locale. I was also excited about this title because it felt original. I cannot recall ever reading a novel with a homeless main character, so in my opinion, this is an important addition to the world of realistic YA fiction.
Rain lives in a tent with her father in the forest near Seattle. These tent cities may sound like something that Janel Kolby crafted for the purpose of this novel, but they are a reality in the Seattle area. I vividly recall the first time I saw tents perched in the trees as I was driving to work one day. I couldn't begin to fathom how anyone could live outdoors in the rainy Pacific Northwest weather, but these settlements seemed to be common in many towns in the area in spite of the rain and the chill in the air. I always wondered what would make someone turn to this lifestyle or what circumstances led them to that spot. Winterfolk allowed me to see inside the potential reasons for this lifestyle.
Rain explains the structure of her makeshift home and community in her poetical way. There were moments when she was not a reliable narrator, but this is largely due to the fact that she is naive in many ways and has few companions near her own age. The exception is King, an older teen who lives in a tent nearby and is protector figure for Rain. These two will be thrown together more when Seattle threatens to bulldoze the forest and destroy their homes. Things go from bad to worse when a crime rips through the community and makes everyone question their beliefs. Rain has to learn to navigate the cruelty of life while trying to hang on to her innocent optimism.
I was often in awe of Rain as I know that I would not have been nearly as gracious about those living conditions. I suppose since I know a different way that it would be more difficult for me to adapt. Sadly, Rain can't remember living anywhere besides her tent. Rain's time in Seattle certainly brings the theme of a "fish out of water" to life. She must learn to navigate new situations and relationships without experience and knowledge to guide her.
Another thing this novel brought to the surface for me was the notion of visibility. Rain often comments that she is a ghost and nobody sees her. How often have I avoided gazing at someone in need? How often have I overlooked a person living in poverty without a second glance? We all fall on difficult times in our lives, but I have been lucky to have others to help pick me back up. Perhaps these unseen in our cities and towns didn't have a support system to help them get back on their feet. So often we think that homelessness is something brought on by poor life choices, but what if there is more to the story? Rather than being oblivious, Rain's story makes me want to see things clearly.
One Last Gripe: The ending felt lackluster.
Favorite Thing About This Book: Seeing the world through Rain's eyes
First Sentence: I wasn't always a ghost.
Favorite Character: Rain
Least Favorite Character: Rain's Father - he seems more concerned with drinking than truly providing for his daughter
Rain is a homeless teen living with her father in the woods outside Seattle, near a community of other homeless people called the Winterfolk. She finds safety and sanctuary in this hidden world—until the day that safety is shattered when she learns the city plans to clear the woods of everyone who lives there. Now she’s forced to confront Seattle, which is full of strange sights, sounds, people—and memories...