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YA Book Club: Blizzard’s Wake by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

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Cover of "Blizzard's Wake"
Cover of Blizzard’s Wake

Probably the last thing I ought to be admitting is that I didn’t love Blizzard’s Wake, right?  I mean, I’m not one of those New York Times Bestseller List reviewers, I’m a C List blogger who wants someone to publish me someday.  And I did like Shiloh, a lot, which is one of two reasons that this ended up in my library bag last week.  The other reason is because I’ve been noodling about writing a YA story set in a blizzard ever since, well, the blizzard we had in February.  And I liked this book.  But I didn’t love it.


Ms. Naylor’s blizzard story is set in March of 1941, as the US was contemplating entering World War II, in Bismarck, North Dakota.  It takes the setting of an historical blizzard and  sets a story about people surviving and helping one another against this backdrop.

The two main characters are Zeke, a man just being released from prison on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, and  Kate, the daughter of the woman whose death he had caused.  I kind of liked Zeke as a character, though he felt a little flat to me, but I think the biggest problem I had with the book is that I just didn’t like Kate.  Her all consuming hatred didn’t ring true for me, not with the loving parent she had remaining, and the close friendships, and the full life.

As an adventure story, Blizzard’s Wake hits the mark.  The blizzard was unexpected, and Naylor leaves you guessing who will survive and who won’t and helps you feel the fear and anguish of the storm very well.  Kate’s little brother Jesse became a very interesting character in the middle of the storm, as did her father, but it almost feels like they got created whole cloth as the first snowflakes hit, with no real character buildup prior to that.

If you’re the sort of parent that hands a child a book in order to make a moral object lesson, this is a good book to hand a child who is hanging on to anger inappropriately.  Naylor does a good job of showing how Kate’s anger hurts and consumes her far more than it does the object of her hate, Zeke.  The ending fits the object lesson trope very well, and not in a too-predictable way, either.

In a strange sort of way, Blizzard’s Wake reminded me a bit of Little Women, with Kate being a very unsympathetic Jo, more like the version of Jo in Little Women and Werewolves, where much of the lyrical writing of the original had been replaced with gimmicky but entertaining werewolf lore, and the moral lesson came with an unexpected slap upside the head.

If your young adult is a big fan of adventure stories, or of Little House type morality play stories, this is a good book for her.  Otherwise, do Naylor a favor (and your young adult) and pick up Shiloh instead.  All the magic that’s missing in Blizzard’s Wake is there.

 Other Thoughts

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