By Ekta R. Garg
Sept. 16, 2020
Genre: Dystopian fiction
Release date: September 1, 2020
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
After winter sets in prematurely, a young woman embarks on a journey to find her mother. Along the way she meets others who feel just as lost as she does. As they fight the elements and humanity, they face choices that test their mettle. Literary author Alison Stine uses her incredible talent for prose in a book that doesn’t move far, plot wise, in her latest novel Road Out of Winter.
Wylodine—Wil to those who know her—has spent months waiting and growing. Waiting for any word from her mother who set out for California and growing the marijuana on the farm where Will and her mother lived with her mother’s boyfriend, Lobo. Her mother promised to stay in touch, although she stopped short of saying she would send for Wil. Lobo tolerated Wil even as he taught her everything about the weed trade: how to grow it, how to sell it, and how to hide it from the authorities.
Lobo heard from a friend that California had better prospects, so he and Wil’s mother left. Wil has continued growing and selling, word of the quality of her product drawing those who need it. Except it starts snowing in June, and the weather doesn’t get warmer.
By the time “fall” arrives, Wil decides to go to California, find her mother, and convince her to leave Lobo. She knows that task is a lot harder than it seems; Lobo has always had access to the drugs her mother craves, and Wil is a liability to that lifestyle. But she misses her mother with a ferocity that makes her determined to leave southeastern Ohio behind.
Before leaving town, though, she runs into Grayson and Dance, two young men from her childhood. Grayson used to attend The Church; his drunk father disappeared and left Grayson to fend for himself. Wil would have too, except Grayson broke his foot and Wil can’t leave him alone and injured. Dance is left for dead after a mob runs over him. He promises to pull his weight and chop wood, haul provisions, any sort of labor if it means he can leave town.
The trio set out and meet a cadre of people on their travels, including a girl named Jamey and Jamey’s baby, Starla. Together, the five of them fight the elements and the others’ loss of trust in humanity. As all technology shuts down and even basic facilities become scarce, Wil digs deep to keep herself and the group going.
Author Alison Stine’s prose invites readers to settle in, and the use of first person allows readers to experience the bleakness as if seeing it for themselves. Early in the book, Wil describes a part of town this way:
“The pavement was frosted over, the reflections of streetlights buzzing in the icy puddles on the ground. Strangers joined us, their shoulders down, a tautness to their jaws like an arrow’s string. It made me think of Lobo, Lobo mad.”
Stine sets the scene of a world where climate change has caused a seemingly endless winter. People become fierce in protecting their own interests. In moments where Wil’s own instincts warn her, she doesn’t hesitate to reassure herself that she’ll protect herself too.
“He pointed his finger at me when he spoke. It seemed like any word, any protest, any answer at all, might enflame him. I concentrated on that finger, red and chapped. I imagined it burning, the skin falling off, the bone breaking. I pictured breaking it myself.”
If the book can be faulted anywhere, it would be in the slow-moving plot. After the initial rush of meeting Grayson and Dance and preparing for their escape from town, the group drifts from place to place without a real destination in mind. Wil wants to “rescue” her mother, yet she doesn’t head due west. As she and the others continue to travel, the direction of their journey is baffling; the question of why they chose to go the way they did might distract readers enough to keep them from fully absorbing the story.
Also, Wil doesn’t change much as a character. Her observations seem more for the reader’s benefit than her own. A rushed ending that leaves too much open also seems out of step with the rest of the novel, which might lead some to speculate that another book continuing Wil’s story is forthcoming.
Readers who enjoy dystopian novels that serve as a warning for the future might enjoy this one. I recommend readers Borrow Road Out of Winter.