Children's Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction

BOOK REVIEW: The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

– Short Review –

The Way Past Winter follows the lives of Mila and her sisters and an adventure that takes place when their brother Oskar disappears one night – after the arrival of a stranger rocks their very foundations of family life.

The story in essence is an adventure / coming of age tale which is spliced superbly with elements of Slavic folklore – and in doing so Hargrave has been able to create her very own fable that you would be mistaken for believing has been around for a millennia, it is so detailed and wonderfully written that it reads like a Brothers Grimm tale. This book is ideal for reluctant readers and for those children who are looking for an adventure that is immersive and action packed – it also has a fabulous cast of strong women / girls that overcome a great many obstacles in the pursuit of their brother and the stranger who stole him away!

Other books you may like that share a similar theme are The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, A Darkness of Dragons by S.A. Patrick, The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Russell Brand illustrated by Chris Riddell & any of the tale from The Brothers Grimm.

– Long Review –

I’ve been reading a lot of books recently based on folklore and fairy tales – some of these are old books but also there have been a fair amount of books coming out this year by children’s authors of today…dipping there toes into this early form of storytelling – reinventing it and using it as a tool to connect with humanity nowadays and also comment on our current state of affairs learning from past fables and stories.

Hargrave borrows from this rich tapestry, incorporating various elements of folklore in her wonderfully crafted tale of The Way Past Winter and in doing so she re-defines these old tales, changes them, adding more depth to its original message – repurposing or up-cycling these old tales and creating something so very special and quite unlike anything you have ever read – unique storytelling at its thrilling best! But no matter how much you spin these tales, how ever much you want to change them there still remains the source material so although The Way Past Winter is a unique tale it still remains quintessentially a folklore – I noticed some hints at Slavic folklore – Hargraves mention of Baba Yaga (The House With Chicken Legs) made me think of the fabulous book by Sophie Anderson – and further endeared what Hargrave’s is trying to achieve – its like the Marvel Cinematic Universe but for Folklore – people popping up from other tales and timelines!

‘She felt empty, like a hand that is dropped when it is used to being held, and, for the first time in ages, she wanted to do things that brought him closer, rather than pushing him further away. Maybe tomorrow, when the stranger and his boys had gone, they could go to the heart tree, and sit and tell stories, like they used to.’

Kiran Millwood Hargrave has developed incredibly as a Children’s author since her fabulous debut with The Girl of Ink & Stars – she set the bar high with that one – awards and plaudits followed. Her follow up to that tale The Island at the End of Everything again raised the bar, showing that Hargrave was able to handle a story with many moving parts and real depth. Now with The Way Past Winter it’s as if Hargrave is an olympic Pole-Vaulter smashing her own record and raising the bar yet again. It’s an astonishing achievement for Hargrave to have produced three groundbreaking books back-to-back and I am thrilled that young people have these type of stories to dig into and an author who treats her target audience with respect, a tender heart and stories to get lost in.

‘There was no telling how long it had lain like this. Winter caught everything in slow time, even death. Around it, the other birches seemed to be leaning towards it, like mourners bowed by a burial pit.’

It’s been a real delight for me to have discovered Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s work – I have benefitted from seeing her development as a writer and in The Way Past Winter she is at her striking best – her use of language is delectable, he prose is whimsically pleasant and she delivers all of this with a cultivated masters touch – she is in my opinion one of the most anticipated Children’s authors working today – if she releases a book – I will go out of my way to get it and read it and review it!

The Way Past Winter has yet again a strong female lead who takes us through this perilous journey to rescue her brother – if you are fans of Hargrave’s previous books there is much to enjoy here, a tale of adventure, love, loss, coming of age, excitement and our greatest fears.

‘It perched on her shoulders, making them heavy and stiff, dug needles of pain into her joints, buried its beak at her pulse points, cawing ice through her veins.’

Every page in The Way Past Winter is frosted with unescapable magic – so sit back, pick it up and start the journey – you might just find The Way Past Winter!

The Way Past Winter is published by Chicken House Books and is available here.


Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Kiran Millwood Hargrave is an award-winning poet, playwright, and bestselling author. Her debut The Girl of Ink & Stars won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017 and the British Book Award’s Children’s Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Jhalak Prize, the Branford Boase Award and the Little Rebels Prize. Her second novel The Island at the End of Everything was released in April 2017, and has been shortlisted for both the Costa Book Awards and the Blue Peter Book Awards. Her fourth poetry collection OE, a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice in collaboration with the artist Tom de Freston, was published by Bloomsbury in October 2017. Kiran lives by the river in Oxford with her husband, Tom, and their cat, Luna.

Read our review of The Girl of Ink & Stars here.

Read our review of The Island at the End of Everything here.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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