‘Winter Garden’: An inspiring, emotional, and gripping read

“Winter Garden” by Kristin Hannah is a wonderful piece of literature that all drama-lovers should read


Sydney Forsyte

“Winter Garden” is a mesmerizing novel that discusses hope after grief.

Sydney Forsyte, Staff Writer

LOS ALAMITOS, CA — Kristin Hannah’s “Winter Garden” is a novel filled with trials and tribulations, but the satisfying conclusion makes all of the anguish worth it.  It is also available as one of the options for outside reading books for the English II Honors classes at Los Alamitos High School. 

The book centers on the difficult relationship between mother Anya Petrovova Whitson and her two adult daughters, Meredith and Nina. The story begins with the death of Meredith and Nina’s father, the one who holds their family together in the face of Anya’s cold disregard for her daughters. As a way to honor her husband’s memory, the mother decides to tell her daughters a Russian fairy tale from their childhood as a last ditch effort to reach out. Meredith and Nina rapturously listen as the gripping fairy tale slowly begins to mirror reality a bit too closely.

As the story progresses, we discover that the fairy tale Anya has been telling is actually the story of her escape from Leningrad during World War II. The story draws on true facts from that period of history in order to vividly depict Anya’s heart wrenching struggle to help her family survive the city’s siege by the Nazi army. The book is a slow burn, but every time Anya picks up her fairy tale, new revelations spur on the plot. This book is definitely made for the reader who enjoys the slow build of anticipation as the author unwraps the plot.

“My favorite part of the book was how the mother’s story slowly merged into Anya’s life story,” said sophomore Tristen Tanimura. “I thought it was a really creative and original way to discover more about her past.”

To some readers, “Winter Garden” may seem at the onset like a predictable piece of young adult fiction filled with tragedy, but the emotional complexities of the book are what truly set it apart as a dynamic piece of literature. The book does not shy away from discussing the difficulties that can come with a death in the family. The unnervingly realistic descriptions of the chaos and drifting apart of the sisters in the wake of their father’s death shows just how challenging grief can be.

Kristin Hannah’s vivid imagery shines in this book as she describes the many locations of the book, ranging from the modern-day parched savanna of Africa to the bitterly cold streets of 1941 Leningrad. The descriptions make the book seem all the more realistic, contributing to the emotional attachment readers may form with the characters.

The book switches back and forth between the present-day, where we hear about Meredith and Nina’s individual lives and romances, and Anya’s story. Readers quickly form attachments to the noble, competent Meredith and vivacious, bold Nina. Both characters act as a wonderful foil to each other.

“I particularly liked the mother as a character because she seemed like such a cool person,” Tanimura said. “I don’t want to spoil anything, but her story was so amazing.”

This book is definitely one of the best outside read books I have ever read, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys seeing history come to life.