Xolo Score 4/5
Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello is a heartwarming Young Adult novel that takes readers on a classic Christmas-time romance. Seventeen-year-old Trey Anderson is popular and dating his stunning yet high-maintenance girlfriend, Blair. His carefree days come crashing down when his parents admit that their family's business, Wonderland Bookshop, is struggling to stay afloat and have until Christmas Day to accept a developer's buy-out. Ariel Spencer, an introverted artist and bookworm who wants to follow in her late father's footsteps by attending his art school, takes up a part-time job at Wonderland and helps the Andersons keep their store and earn her tuition money. Much to both teens' surprise, as they spend more time together, they fall for their touching spirits.
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Love in Wonderland's dual point of view captures the ups and downs of school life against the backdrop of Christmas time in Hackney. Bello skillfully captures the essence of adolescence, making Tery and Ariel relatable and endearing characters. Both characters and their friends are Black teens who capture the broad spectrum of personalities and interests. In addition to building the romantic relationship between Trey and Ariel, Bello develops their relationships with their best friends and family. Trey and his best friend, Boogs, are inseparable and incredibly supportive of each other. At the same time, Ariel leans heavily on her girlfriends, who uplift and love her when so many at school quickly bully her for being thick, shy, and bookish.
The romance in Love in Winter Wonderland is tender and genuine, steering clear of clichés and providing a refreshing take on young love found during Christmas. The characters' emotions are palpable, and the slow burn of the romance keeps readers eagerly turning the pages. However, Trey's emotional cheating of his girlfriend Blair is, at times, very disappointing and is presented as a teenager's romantic naivete. Bello captures the essence of first love with authenticity, making it a compelling and relatable read for teenagers and adults alike.
Additionally, the novel doesn't dodge representing hard realities. Trey attempts to understand his personal goals while balancing the fate of his family's business and a relationship he understands is toxic. Ariel grapples with grief and is recovering from an editing disorder. Bello intentionally weaves strong themes of friendship and self-acceptance, adding depth to the narrative. Because Trey and Ariel have friends supporting them through the emotional rollercoaster, they can find healthy ways to work through their emotions.
Love in Winter Wonderland goes beyond the typical Christmas Romance novel with emotional vulnerability, community spirit, and Black joy.
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