Title: When Rain Turns to Snow
Author: Jane Godwin
Published: June 2020
Readership: Middle Grade/Young Adult
I received a copy of When Rain Turns to Snow from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
A runaway, a baby and a whole lot of questions…
Lissa is home on her own after school one afternoon when a stranger turns up on the doorstep carrying a baby. Reed is on the run – surely people are looking for him? He’s trying to find out who he really is and thinks Lissa’s mum might have some answers. But how could he be connected to Lissa’s family – and why has he been left in charge of a baby? A baby who is sick, and getting sicker …
Reed’s appearance stirs up untold histories in Lissa’s family, and suddenly she is having to make sense of her past in a way she would never have imagined. Meanwhile, her brother is dealing with a devastating secret of his own.
A beautiful and timely coming-of-age story about finding out who you are in the face of crisis and change.
I’m very familiar with Jane Godwin’s picture books – I’ve been using a lot of them throughout remote learning this year with my young students – but I had yet to try some of her novels, and I’m sure the cover of this book drew me to it, because it is a striking cover that makes it feel a touch magical.
When Rain Turns to Snow follows Lissa, a young teen who’s at home by herself after school one day and discovers a boy, Reed, and a baby on her porch. Reed’s on the run with the baby, his niece, and he’s convinced that he’s connected to Lissa’s family and wants her help to try and uncover the connection, and it needs to be done quickly, because the baby he’s looking after isn’t well. His appearance stirs up a lot of secret histories in Lissa’s family – things that make everyone uncomfortable – at a difficult time.
It took me a while to get into the flow of this book. Once I was, I was hooked, and I really wanted to know the connection between Lissa and Reed, and to make sure that Mercy, the baby, recovered. I don’t know whether it was the digital review copy I received, but the majority of the story is told from Lissa’s perspective, but there are tiny paragraphs at the end of each chapter told from someone else’s perspective – we learn who, eventually – but it stopped a lot of the flow of the story for me.
I think When Rain Turns to Snow is an ambitious book – it tackles a lot of difficult and challenging topics (a lot of which are spoilers so I won’t be specific here) particularly around blended families and how families come into being. (There’s also mention of past/recovered cancer within the family, too, so keep that in mind.) But not only do you have Lissa and Reed’s story, but also Reed’s family story – his brother who has a drug addiction and parents who could no longer cope with that – and the story of Lissa’s brother who’s currently in the midst of a particularly nasty social media bullying scheme, and the toxic friendships. All of it does tie together in the end to show where the strands meet, but it is a lot all at once and sometimes it felt like too much.
That said, the connection I felt to Lissa and Reed and Mercy was fantastic. The two teens are trying to be adults despite their young age, and shoulder the burdens of their families. Lissa is learning to identify when her friends are helpful, and when they’re really not friends at all, and how to support her brother who she loves and adores, and how to love her mother and new partner, and her father and his new wife. Reed is on the run and trying to look after a baby and trying to figure out who he is. They’re both endearing characters who want to find where they belong in their world and amongst their family.
While it wasn’t a perfect book for me, it was definitely one that I don’t regret reading and I’m very eager to try other novels by Jane Godwin in the future. I think it packs a huge punch for such a short story and there are so many great themes in there.