Keven Newsome's Winter is a story about beginning, about starting over and reinventing oneself, but it's not just one such story. The novel contains two parallel stories that play off of each other. The protagonist of both stories is Winter Maessen, a teenager from a broken home coming to terms with the death of her mother from cancer and becoming a prophetess, i.e. receiving somewhat cryptic messages from God. Strangely enough, she handles becoming a prophetess much better than the death of her mother. Winter is also about facing evil head on, having confidence in yourself, and being careful about the friends you pick.
Four years separate the parallel narratives. In the earlier one, Winter learns that her mother is terminally ill and will be moving into a hospice care home. Although her mother is a devout Christian, Winter has doubts and questions why her mother's god would allow someone like her mother to suffer. Winter will be moving in with her father (her parents are divorced), which means moving to a new town and a new school. Winter has difficulty making friends at the new school and suffers some cruel practical jokes. (A couple boys smash meatloaf into her hair during lunch.) Eventually, a small coterie of students accept her. They lead Winter down a strange path. Claire—a victim of abuse at the fists of her father—becomes Winter's best friend. Claire convinces Winter to become a Goth, to dress all in black as an outward sign of their inner feelings. Winter follows them to vandalize an animal research center. Winter is arrested while the others escape. Claire seeks Winter's forgiveness and then convinces Winter to join her in casting spells to end the physical abuse from Claire's father and heal Winter's mother.
The second narrative picks up when Winter's father drops her off on her first day as a freshman at Tishbe University, a small Christian school that Winter's mother attended. Winter is still a Goth but both she and her father have become Christians. Winter knows no one at the new school and her Goth attire attracts attention, not all of it good. Winter's roommate is a cheery, pink-loving girl named Summer. (Newsome has a sense of humor.) Winter acquires some friends in her dorm who see past Winter's Goth clothes. But, all is not well at Tishbe University. There were attacks on some students the previous year and these attacks continue. Following a premonition, Winter succeeds in thwarting one of the attacks. As she and her friends investigate further, following Winter's prophetic dreams and premonitions, they discover a plot directed by a Satanist to remake the university. Winter and her friends suffer at the hands of the plotters. Winter is held captive and severely beaten. Another student is murdered and one of Winter's best friends becomes the victim of a Satanic ritual.
What I found most interesting about this novel is the way Newsome structures the two narratives. The stories unfold simultaneously with chapters from Four Years Ago interspersed with the chapters from the Present Day. Both narratives begin with Winter entering a new phase in her life in a new setting in which she must make new friends. The chapters covering Winter's incarceration after the vandalism coincide with the chapters detailing Winter's abduction and beating. A chapter from Four Years Ago in which Winter takes part in an animal sacrifice parallels the chapters in which Winter's friend is the ritual victim. So what does all this parallelism mean? I think Newsome is trying to show the extent to which Winter has matured over the four intervening years and how her choices and reactions to problems have changed. Winter's general trajectory in the earlier narrative is downward as Winter finds few solutions and digs a deeper hole, while in the present narrative the trajectory is upward, as Winter enjoys successes and overcomes difficulties. The novel doesn't explain what happened in the four year gap between the two narratives. I suspect that will the stuff of a sequel.
To learn more about Keven Newsome and his writing, check out his blog at kevennewsome.com.