Evan and Lucy have been best friends since childhood. After Lucy’s parents split up, she moved away, and now her winter break visits are the highlights of Evan’s year. Until this year. Lucy comes home draped in Goth gear, with a new attitude that falls somewhere between angry and totally absent. Evan is determined to figure out where his old friend is in the midst of this transformation; Lucy is just as focused on keeping her secrets under lock and key. This emotional tug-of-war is just one of the stories threading through Winter Town.

Author Stephen Emond (Happyface) has created an intricate world for Evan and Lucy to navigate, and shifts in perspective allow each to tell part of the story. Evan is an artist, or might be, if he can shake off his family’s Ivy League game plan; comic strips that he has drawn, sometimes in collaboration with Lucy, appear in the book, giving yet another view of what’s going on with him. Emond strikes a nice balance with the artwork. It never overwhelms the story, but gets us closer to the characters, and it’s lovely to look at, sometimes clean and literal, then cartoonish and fantastic.

Another neat trick Winter Town pulls off is blending some seriously heavy subject matter—parental pressure, dangerous relationships, drug use—into what is frequently hilarious writing. There’s an early scene, in which Evan’s entire family openly speculates about his sexuality as if he weren’t right there, that belongs on screen. Add in pop culture riffs and chapters titled with Beatles and Beach Boys songs, and Winter Town is a rare treat: a book about art and love, friendship and independence, that’s a real pleasure to read. Don’t miss it.

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