The Way Past Winter quickly draws young readers into the magical world of a mysterious, frozen north, where Mila lives with her parents and her siblings, Sanna and Oskar. Their mother, who loves to spin tales of an ancient forest spirit called the Bear, dies giving birth to a baby daughter, Pípa. Five years later, devastated by grief, the children’s father walks into the snowy wilderness and isn't seen again.
Then Oskar disappears after a group of strangers visits their hut, but Mila is convinced he has not gone willingly. Mila and her sisters set out in their dog-drawn birch sleigh to track him, only to discover that other boys in the nearby town, including Sanna’s friend Geir, are missing, too. Bretta, the town’s jarl (a kind of ruler), believes the boys have been lured away by adventure and the promise of money. Most of the townsfolk agree—except for Rune, a mage, herbalist and storyteller. Rune tells Mila that Oskar and the others have been taken by the Bear, who becomes angry when trees are cut down. With no time to waste, Rune, Mila and Pípa set off on a dangerous rescue mission. To save her brother, Mila will have to muster all her courage to confront the Bear—and come to a new understanding of what it means to call the forest her home in order to guard and protect it for the future.
Author Kiran Millwood Hargrave paints her wintery world with poetic, lyrical prose. Her story’s complex magical elements never detract from the page-turning adventure and underlying themes of sibling relationships, responsibility and love of the natural world. The Way Past Winter is a winning and memorable combination of classical fantasy and a call for environmental activism.