Road Out Of Winter

Alison Stine
Road Out Of Winter Cover

Road Out Of Winter


I really enjoyed this book which in some ways manages to be quite easy to categorise in some respects but difficult in others.

Road Out of Winter is the story of a young woman who is relatively socially isolated growing marijuana on a farm in rural Ohio who leaves to find her mother in California during a climate emergency as a long winter descends on the nation and society breaks down.

So, it's definitely road trip, and it definitely fits into the cli-fi genre too as two springs are missed and the land becomes harder and harder to live off as it is blanketed with ice and snow. It may technically be a dystopia, but there is no sense of an overarching evil or brutality but there is a bleakness to coming to terms with the surroundings. It technically fits in with sci-fi and horror too - yet the horrors are the nature of man more than the environment and it does address the classic 'sci-fi' question of 'what if', but as far as 'near future' settings go, it could easily be set from 'tomorrow'. Is it a YA book? In a lot of senses, yes! All the main characters are relatively young people hitting their early 20's at most and there is a real sense that this road trip is one of undertaking a journey and understanding what family really is.

The book is a real page-turner too - once I'd got going with it, I found it was quite difficult to put down and I raced through much of the book. I'm not convinced there is actually a massive plot to this book, because once our lead character Wyl sets off on her journey, it's really just a handful of set pieces stitched together.

As much as I enjoyed the book I do have a few criticisms of it - in the first third of the book there is a sense of impeding doom, and you know things are going to get bad. Society collapses very quickly. Wyl and her companions leave their small town and almost immediately, other than bumping into groups of organised communities all the roads and towns are pretty much desolate. I get that some would leave earlier - Wyl is quite late to the party of realising she needs to move, and I get that many would stay in their homes and towns. Really though, it's remarkable how empty the roads become, even accepting that they are not using major routes. I recognise fuel scarcity may be an issue (it's not really for Wyl) but it seems there is a Sleeping Beauty element to this in that a day after leaving town everything, everywhere has collapsed.

Another criticism is that for every plot reveal in the book, you kind of see them coming a mile off - or you even thought it had already been clearly explained. It doesn't really impact on one's enjoyment, but I had a few moments where I thought, 'haven't you already told us that'?

There is a very real sense of 'found family' in this book as Wyl sets off and picks up passengers along the way. Some of them feel like a missed opportunity for development and there is not really enough exploration of their dynamic together. Most of the people have awful birth parents and I quite liked the rather wonderful sense of these people finding each other and bringing 'home' along with them.

There are some interesting nods to class, and how a climate emergency inevitably will be easier for those with greater resources. There is a section where Wyl and her band of strangers-to-friends encounter a group of ecological protestors who have set up a commune in a forest. I can't decide whether it is a perfect depiction of the class nature of such groups who can command resources to be secure (and have the time and effort to 'drop out' for a greater cause) OR it is a rather insincere attack on people who try and make a difference in the world (the depictions of what vegan food is being cooked would be unrealistic in that setting unless the group had a huge warehouse!) Many working class activists in the animal rights / ecological / anarchist movements have raised concerns Stine does, but I am not 100% sure of what Stine is really getting at, almost that she is mocking the efforts of the group and it's futility.

Where the horror comes in, is that some groups of people Wyl and company encounter are clearly not good people, and what I think this novel does really well is capture the added threat to women in such an emergency as they face the continued threat of sexual violence and gender based exploitation. It is tense and uncomfortable at times reading the book, but I suspect this will be accentuated for women and girls who travel alone, who have been in a situation with men they cannot control or easily escape from. Sure the horror is there, but what really got to me is that much of what I was reading happens now, every day to girls and women.

I feel like I have spent more time on my criticisms than what I liked and it is important to reflect I really enjoyed the book - it's tense, I cared what happened to the group, it pushed buttons - whether that was related to the threat of male violence or to the heartbreaking realisation of being in love with someone and it being unrequited.

The heart of the book is Wyl herself, you are told throughout she is a grower, she cares for and she nurtures and she is patient. This book is about her growth and her finding her family. The open-ended conclusion asks questions, but when I think of Wyl and the people she travels with I am left with a feeling of hope that maybe things worked out fine.