It’s been a well-known fact for years now that a lot of book reviewers and bloggers often have a hard time describing their feelings towards a book they simply feel meh about. For me, this is a phenomenon that is endlessly frustrating, and makes writing these reviews something I don’t look forward to.
For me, the reviews I love writing most are those when I either adored the book and have so much to discuss and gush about, and those where I absolutely hated the book and want to tear it to shreds. But when it falls neither here nor there and it doesn’t prompt any strong feelings about it, I’m left uncertain with how to begin.
But I’m going to have to try.
Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.
He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.
But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.
And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.
The Road to Winter is one of those books that has been on my radar for quite a while, but it’s only now that I’ve had the chance to pick it up. And from what I’d heard of it before I read it, I knew it was going to be a new classic Aussie YA novel that could be compared to Tomorrow, When the War Began and would be just as phenomenal. While I enjoyed being thrust back into a post-apocalyptic Australia where the narrative followed teenagers fighting for survival, it felt both unoriginal and just didn’t grab me. That really saddened me, because so many people have loved and praised this novel. While I didn’t not enjoy it, I just found that I didn’t really feel for the characters and the plot moved rather slowly. I’d expected to launch into a fast-pace race for survival, but it was more of a slow-burning, character-driven novel — which would have been okay if I’d loved the characters.
There’s something I have to confess — I thought Finn was a girl for the first fifty pages, until another character, Rose, said otherwise. It was probably bad for me to presume I was reading from a teen girl’s point of view, but probably the last 50 books I’ve read have been from the POV of a female, and so I was very excited when there started being romance between Finn and Rose because I was like, Yes! My queer little babies! Alas, Finn was a boy and their romance was very heterosexual. I also feel like the last few books I’ve read have had f/f romance, so I was in the headspace to expect that. I know I should have started this book with a clean slate, but… it just would have been so much better with queer romance. That’s all my little queer heart desired. Note to self: I probably should have read the blurb more closely before starting this book. Oh well.
But what’s worse than getting a m/f romance when you’re expecting a f/f one? Romance without any lead-up, and seemingly without purpose. The pacing was definitely off for this aspect, and I felt like one second Finn was telling this girl how pretty she was and the next second they were kissing and inseparable. I couldn’t feel the chemistry between them and I longed for some more development in their romance. I honestly didn’t care about their lived and whether they survived, which was disappointing because a character-driven novel like this one really needs you to be invested in their lives. I probably cared more about the dog than I did about Finn and Rose.
One vital thing I felt was missing from this novel was the backstory about what kind of virus killed so many people and left the ones remaining living in a post-apocalyptic kind of world. It would have been excellent backstory and I felt like it would have raised the stakes of the novel if I knew what our characters were trying to fight for survival against. All I knew what that heaps of people died, but beyond that, I had no clue what was going on. I liked that we were thrust straight into the narrative, but it would have been great to have more of an explanation and know more about Finn’s life previously. I felt like I couldn’t really get to know him all that well, and I would have loved to have felt more connected to him and his struggles.
With no strong plot and underdeveloped characters, The Road to Winter is a book that fell flat for me. It was well-written and I liked the descriptions of the Aussie landscape and the almost-barren wasteland it had become, but that wasn’t enough to keep me intrigued. While I can see how this novel would appeal to some people, unfortunately it wasn’t one that I fell in love with.
Have you read The Road to Winter? Did you enjoy it? Have you read many other #LoveOzYA novels recently? Do you struggle writing 3-star reviews? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Text Publishing Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!