Winter in the Soul by Jennifer Novotney

Today I’m excited to share Jennifer Novetney‘s Winter in the Soul* (2014, Aniah Press). Marketed as a young adult fantasy, Winter in the Soul, the first book in a series, will also appeal to middle grades readers. I absolutely love the title!

Lilika lives with her family in Spring Bloom. One day Lilika is visited by her great, great-grandmother Mirabelle, who gives her a golden locket. She keeps the golden locket a secret and prepares to travel with her father Sage Summer Harvest for a trading trip. Sage feels Lilika is ready to become a leader. All is going well on their journey until their cart’s wheel becomes damaged. Sage makes the difficult decision to leave Lilika alone on the path to guard the cart while he goes for supplies. When Sage arrives in Summer Harvest, he sends Talon, a boy about Lilika’s age, to go help her. Talon finds Lilika and helps her bring the cart into town. A deep friendship forms, and when Lilika’s locket is missing, Talon is right there beside her to help her look for it. What ensues is a tumultuous journey into Lilika’s past and a realization of just what kind of leader she is.

Novotney has a knack for storytelling and creates an appealing mysterious fantasy. I was reminded of Beaty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak. There are many similar moments created in these two texts. I think especially of Serafina and Braeden trying to find the Black Cloak at the Biltmore and then Lilika and Talon exploring the old man’s room at the inn in Summer Harvest. Like Serafina and the Black Cloak, Winter in the Soul boasts a female protagonist who learns to accept her strengths. This is such a powerful and needed message!

There are some moments of great tension (e.g. when Lilika first meets Mirabelle and when Talon and Lilika encounter danger on their way to WITS). But there were times when I wanted scenes to have more detail and intensity.  For example, the scene in which Lilika and Talon meets Cyperus is too rushed for the reader to have the opportunity to full immerse him- or herself in the characters’ fears. I also thought the characters’ dialogue was unrealistic at times; I had trouble envisioning teenagers saying certain lines to one another. But these critiques should not overshadow the essence of a great story.

Here are some teaching ideas for Winter in the Soul:

(1) Ask students to compare two or more fantasy texts in order to think about whether lead male and female characters are written differently or have unique attribute. One of the strengths of Winter in the Soul is that Lilika begins to accept her identity as a leader, and students might examine other texts to see whether this theme holds through in other fantasy texts.

(2) I also think Winter in the Soul fits nicely into a discussion about the hero’s journey. In what ways does Lilika’s story fit into the hero’s journey presented on this graphic organizer? Is the entire hero’s journey represented in Winter in the Soul, or does Novotney leave readers to anticipate the sequel?

 Rating: img-thingimg-thingimg-thing

*Jennifer asked me to review Winter in the Soul and graciously sent me an ebook version of the text. I agreed to offer a fair and objective review.



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