The Plot: Willo is watching and listening and waiting.
Willo was born after the weather changed, after the seas dried up and the snow kept coming and coming, and people got mean. Willo’s father, Robin, and others left the cities and went into the mountains, struggling to live but knowing it’s better than being in the settlements and cities. Willo doesn’t know anything about that; he just knows that this life, of hunting and cold and wild dogs and nature, is all he’s ever known.
All Willo has known is this life, with his father and family.
And now his father and family is gone. Willo is alone. He may have spent hours alone, observing animals, hunting, but now that he is alone he has only one goal: find his father. Find his family. No matter what.
The Good: “I’m gonna sit here in my place on the hill beyond the house. Waiting. And watching. Ain’t nothing moving down there. The valley look pretty bare in the snow. Just the house, gray and lonely down by the river all frozen. I got to think what I’m gonna do now that everyone gone. But I got my dog head on.”
This is Willo’s story, and his unique voice shines through the entire book. His voice alone is reason enough to have After the Snow on the finalist list. It’s the voice of a teenage boy who is the first generation born after the weather changed and a new ice age began. Willo is not a boy for books and contemplation. He is all about action and survival, hunting hares and wild dogs for their meat and fur. Willo lives close to the world as he knows it: observing and being one with it, respectful of the animals he hunts, wearing the skull of one dog and half-believing the dog gives him guidance.
Willo’s voice is the one of someone who doesn’t know about the time before, the time of hotbaths, and doesn’t really care. It’s about the here and now. The here and now is what matters: and the here and now is that his father is missing and Willo will do what he can to track him down.
The journey to find his family takes Willo outside his comfort zone, the mountains and forests he knows. After the Snow is almost a fairy tale, as Willo encounters abandoned children, cannibals, settlements and cities, brutality and kindness. He learns about who he can trust, and who he cannot. At times he is the wild boy encountering civilization at times, wondering at the world he discovers. He is a puzzle with pieces missing, because of the isolation he was raised in.
One observation: Willo’s voice and cadence and observation is a strength of After the Snow. For some readers, it may be overwhelming. Also, what we know we learn from Willo, which at times is narrow both because of his knowledge and of his interests. I guessed at some thing well before Willo, but, to be honest, while I was reading books that made me good at guessing plot twists Willo was busy hunting animals to keep his family alive.
A prequel is coming out in 2013, One Crow Alone.