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Review: The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta

The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the dystopian novel, and a character-driven plot. Though not fantasy, there is a resounding magic to this book that is reminiscent of some of the greats.

The Alleshi are a society of widows who use a variety of methods to train young men for greatness. Part mother, lover, and instructor, these women are called upon to mold their boys into the type of man that will meet success in all forms.

Rishana is embarking on her first season, and is equally parts anxious and excited about it. At the request of her beloved mentor, she takes on a troubled boy named Dov, who proves to be both a delight, as well as hindrance. Through kindness, strength, sex, lessons, and guidance, the young Allesha proves herself to be a capable and oftentimes fearless teacher. However, there is trouble stirring in the Alleshi’s cloistered world, and Rishana cannot help but take notice.

The Winter Boy is a study on human character, and an interesting lesson on the psychology of the pupil as well as the teacher. The reader is given access to many characters’ heads at once, which, in many ways, deepens the ties between all of the main characters. The prose is lyrical, though straightforward. There are elements of philosophy, spirituality, and sensuality that are thought provoking, disturbing, even. It is a deep, all-encompassing story, well imagined and exotic.

I was mostly fascinated by the relationship between the boy and his Allesha. It is tender, complicated, and wholly unique. The idea of love, and all that it entails—it’s many reaches, it’s nooks, it’s various forms—is readily apparent in the novel. At first, I was reticent due to the possible patriarchal overtones that come stem from talented women sacrificing their lives for men. However, the author does a skilled job in shedding equal light and importance on both its male and female characters. They all have roles, many roles, but there is no question of equality. The Winter Boy is an ambitious novel. 

Reviewed by M.B. Sellers

Publication date: 11/6/2014
Pages: 508

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