“The Winter Boy” is the second full length novel by the talented writer, Sally Wiener Grotta. We are not told exactly when the story is set, but it is sometime after a cataclysmic event, known as the Great Chaos. Gradually, over a long period of time, the Peace has been established by a group of widows called the Alleshi. The Alleshi work to maintain and extend the Peace by training young men to become their Alemen. The bonds between the Alleshi and their Alemen are very strong, based very much on trust and loyalty.
The two central characters in “The Winter Boy” are a young Allesha called Rishana and her first Boy, a difficult young man, a “problem boy” named Ryl. Rishana is to train Ryl throughout the winter, in a way which will develop his abilities to be beneficial to the Peace. The training takes many forms and it is always the hope that the Boy will reach the status of Aleman with all the skills he needs to survive, while enhancing the Peace.
Their journey through their winter season is not easy for either Rishana or Ryl. Both characters undergo changes, and both have episodes of extreme disenchantment with the whole process. Both feel manipulated at times and one of the most interesting aspects of the story, for me, is how they worked through their difficulties and coped with surprising revelations.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I particularly liked the development of the characters and their response to the lessons they learned. Although set in a time that is not our own, many of the insights offered throughout the story have relevance to our world and our own humanity. I loved the myths and legends that were used as part of Ryl’s training. “The Winter Boy” is also a suspenseful tale and I always returned to my reading, eager to find out what would happen next.
I took quite a while to read this book, not because I found it tedious, but because I didn’t want it to end! This is a story that will stay with me for a long time; thank you Sally Wiener Grotta for writing such a wonderful, thought provoking story.