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After the Snow, Questions

After the Snow, S.D. Crockett
Feiwel and Friends, March 2012
Reviewed from ARC

I’ve got that feeling again, the one I had about There Is No Dog, that sense of bafflement because the book I read may not be the book others read. This is a 3-star book* that also made it into the New York Times. It’s ambitious for sure, but I’m beginning to think I only notice ambitious writing when it doesn’t quite pull itself off. It’s original, except that somehow it reminds me almost unbearably of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy, all inverted.

(I should note that most of the time I try really hard not to read the actual text of the reviews in journals or on other blogs until AFTER I’ve done my writeup, to try to avoid being influenced by others. As soon as I press publish, I’ll be off to read away.)

I am hoping that a conversation will illuminate this novel, so I’ll start by laying my cards on the table.

My first problem is that I found this an unbearably slow read, which I think is a result of the narrative voice. In fact, like so many first person narrative novels, the voice is so critical that it’s hard to see past it, so let’s start there.

The dialect didn’t feel natural, which is not to say it never worked, but that it had the effect sometimes of making me feel like I was translating as much as reading. The scene where he first meets Mary? Had to read that three times to really get a sense of the place and to understand where the body was in relation to the kids. Reading Willo’s voice was exhausting. Trying to parse for the meaning given his half feral way of looking at the world was sometimes difficult. He’s only half human, really. The images of him in his cave are powerful, and unsettling, but they don’t let the reader get close to him. He is too much like the wild dog he thinks he is.

Willo’s peculiar lens on the world also makes the world impenetrable. Why is the government so afraid of the people living outside the cities? It doesn’t make any sense to have to have this sort of totalitarian, standard dystopic government in this context. Or maybe it does, but since most of our information comes from Willo, and he certainly doesn’t get it, the reader can’t access the necessary information to buy the world. We do get more of a sense as the world goes on, through Mary and Jacob, through Dorothy and Patrick (both in flashbacks and when we meet him again), but it’s hard to parse it all together into a seamless whole.

And let’s talk about Patrick. Willo’s memories have more Patrick than anyone else, although he thinks about Magda and Alice a lot too (both characters I wish we had a chance to meet). I knew there was something more, and I was waiting for it, so when he reappeared it was too neat, because the foreshadowing had seemed so obvious.

But here’s what I find myself wondering: How much of the reader response to this book is based on the emotional engagement with Willo, whuch by extension means the willingness to buy his voice? I as reader found his voice difficult, which made this a halting, difficult read, which gave me ample time to notice and pick at flaws, some of which might have been another reader’s charms (is the Patrick thing as obvious if you aren’t reading this in fits and starts or forcing yourself not to skim because you are having trouble with the voice? Memories of Patrick stand out of the narrative because we hear Patrick’s voice in them, which is perfectly comprehensible and stands in stark contrast to Willo’s voice.) Is this a book like The White Darkness, where it’s hard to read but a RealCommittee member who pushes harder on the biases and engagement factor finds it’s quietly brilliant?

(Also, this is a book that has me thinking about package. The font is an uncommon one in novels. It’s sans serif, with very rounded letters. It didn’t work for me; the same voice in a more traditional font might have made a significant difference to my reading of this book. The choice here left me wondering about the designer’s process and what the impact of the visual should be. I realize this is something many (most?) readers might not consciously notice, but I firmly believe that it has an effect regardless. On the other hand, the cover is fantastic, and the repeat of the image as section breaks is lovely design; the quoted material at the start of the sections I found distracting and again drew attention to things that maybe aren’t the things the reader should be noting. I would have, as a reader, loved loved loved to see excerpts from John Blovyn’s book, given its importance to the plot and within the world. That first hand contact with the artifact that drives the entire narrative would make immediate sense as a reader; passages I needed to decode in a book that already wasn’t fully holding me were another distancing measure.

But again, one man’s trash, another man’s treasure?)

I’m not going to reread this one unless it makes it into our shortlist for mock voting, which in turn is going to be dependent on what others have to say about it. So have at it. (Assuming you’ve read it? I think we’ll run a contenders reading poll in the next week or so, just to see where folks generally stand, given the much bigger pile this year.)

Anyway, yeah. If you loved this one, please chime in, and try to pick apart that connection between emotional connection and critical response with me. If you didn’t, chime in anyway!

About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.


  1. I am one of the readers was able to slip into the dialect without much of a problem and therefore was very engaged with the story. I liked that it had more of a post-apocalyptic than dystopian feel; I liked Willo a lot. Mary was probably the weakest point for me, though I was willing to read past her. I did predict Patrick’s return, but I’m not sure how much of that was just being an avid reader and having a sense of the shape of stories. I do think that the quotations at the beginnings of the chapters didn’t serve a good purpose (Unspoken is the only recent book I’ve read where I thought epigraphs really worked.)

    Of course I was also reading for pure pleasure, not for a formal review or with the Printz in mind at that point so I’m sure I would have a different reaction if I re-read with that lens.

    As a side comment on dialects–I wonder if part of the difficulty here is that it’s not simply dialect but British-based dialect? One step too far for American ears? Not at all sure, but thinking aloud.

  2. Unlike you, I did enjoy the dialect. However, this enjoyment didn’t affect the fact that the story made little sense to me, especially the dystopian set-up. I would really appreciate it if someone explained it to me why it was a dystopia at all and, like you said, why population that wanted to live in the wild had to be oppressed and persecuted.

  3. I read this one way back in the beginning of the year, but, from what I recall (rusty memory and all), I completely agree with everything you’re saying. I found myself mystified, baffled, gobsmacked, etc. every time I saw a positive review for this book. I found it ceaselessly boring and tiresome. I did not have any problems with the dialect in CHAOS WALKING trilogy but I found it unbearable to trudge through the dialect of this one. I had a problem with the pacing of the narrative and detested the main character. I felt like the book left some of the more interesting plots undeveloped. I just did not get this book and would be shocked if this book was honored.

  4. I didn’t have a problem with the dialect, I found it very effective as the main character changed from the wild animal he basically was at the beginning.

    I also liked the atmosphere, it was somewhat a mystery as to what was really going on with the government but I didn’t mind that because the book wasn’t about that, it was Willo’s story and his growth and change that I was most concerned about.

    I did have a problem with an uneven plot. Very tense moments were broken up by long periods of very slow development (not to mention some very odd character choices–did he really leave the girl in the creepy guy’s hole in the sewer and think she’d be fine??) and the ending was pretty abrupt and way too unbelievable that those characters would just find each other like that.

    I thought the book had some real strengths, but plot would keep me from voting for it.

  5. Let me start with the superficial: I hated the sans serif. I can’t even believe it was worth commenting on, but it was so tough to read — and I think it was complicated by the dialect — that I kept getting distracted. The choice there was not reader friendly.

    I quite liked the dialect, though. It reminded me a lot of how dialect was used in Moira Young’s BLOOD RED ROAD, and I thought it gave a huge sense of Willo’s class and education, as well as his wild nature (he is nature-driven, after all).

    That aside, I had so much trouble figuring this world out. I couldn’t quite crack into Willo’s mindset nor his goals, and it made this a frustrating read. I’m just going to copy what I said in my review because this is still where I stand on it:

    Willo’s heart is driven in finding his father and that’s where it becomes challenging to connect with him or understand what he’s doing. We don’t get a sense of what’s going on in Willo’s mind, and when he makes choices, they aren’t logical to us as readers. This in and of itself wouldn’t be a challenge, except it is made that way because readers are not given a sense of what is at stake in the city. It’s never clear what the government is doing that’s so bad. We’re never clear why Willo or anyone should be fearful. We don’t know what it is they need to escape from. Part of this has to do with Willo’s lack of knowledge, since the story’s from his perspective, except since we don’t know much about Willo, the tactic falls flat. It leaves the reader confused and unable to emotionally connect with him.

    I noted, too, being unsatisfied by the ending and wondering what the point was.

    We had really similar reactions to this, though I was far more willing to buy Will’s voice than you. I wish the starred trade reviews of this one were more in depth because I feel those readers got a greater grasp of the world than I did, and I’m curious what I missed. But I was put off enough on this one not to want to give it a second read.

  6. Elizabeth Burns says

    Not a fan of the dialect; never have been, not just here, but it did make this a tough book to read. That said, it was consistent with who Willo is as a person and coherent and consistent throughout the book, tho I did wonder if one generation was enough to create such a distinction in thought and speech between Robin and his son. While I liked how Willo was show with almost a pre-historic view towards animals and hunting (down to his use of the cave and the bones) this also seemed quick timewise. (But then, exactly, how old is Robin?)

    I could buy a lot of this world: chaos and limited supplies creating a governing body intent on keeping a tight grip on people. I had a bit more problem believing that the John Bloyvan painted by others was the same man Willo describes at the start of the book. It didn’t quite work; but I also only read it once. And who made the copies of these books? How long has this been going on? Again, it may have to do with the timeline — when was the book written? Before or after Bloyvan goes off the grid into the wilderness?

    What I did like that i don’t see mentioned was how this seemed almost a fairy-tale at times, with the innocent encountering a series of challenges and tests along the way to prove his worth.

    I know there is a prequel; any idea if there is a third book planned?

    • Karyn Silverman says

      Is the prequel a short story? Because this is a first novel, per her agents website.

      • Elizabeth Burns says

        From the author’s website. ONE CROW ALONE, February 2013 (Amazon says January 2013). ““They say it’s going to get worse. That it’s not going to end.” The snow won’t stop falling in this dangerous-new-world. The long, bitter winters are getting worse, and a state of emergency has been declared across Europe. In Poland, the villagers are subject to frequent power cuts and fuel shortages. After the death of her grandmother and the evacuation of her village, fifteen-year-old Magda joins forces with the arrogant, handsome Ivan and smuggles her way onto a truck bound for London – where she hopes to find her mother. But London, when they reach it, is a nightmarish world, far from welcoming. Riots are commonplace and the growing chaos is exploited by criminals and terrorists alike. Magda’s mother is not to be found, and as the lost girl struggles to come to terms with her changing situation, she eventually becomes friends with a rag-tag group of travellers planning a new home and future. They will need all the cunning and know-how they possess as they realise that the frozen wilderness of Britain has become just as lawless as the as the city.”

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