Had you told me, a few years back, that Adam Bertocci would be writing high school romance stories, I’m not sure I would have believed you. His first book that I discovered was the amazing Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, in which Bertocci re-creates The Big Lebowski in wonderful, truly Shakespearean prose; after that, the next few stories I read may have been set in high schools, but each dealt with supernatural or dark elements, ranging from ghosts to a send-up of Twilight‘s warring supernatural factions. All were fantastic, mind you; each created rich, interesting narrators, plunged you nicely into the high school experience, and managed to both tell a story and grapple with richer ideas at the same time.
Now comes The Snow Queen of Somerville High, which sets aside all of the supernatural elements to tell a simple story of a girl who meets a new student and falls in love. That’s it – no bigger twists, no novel elements, no shocking swerves. More than that, this isn’t a Nicholas Sparks book; there’s no big melodramatic reveal, no shocking deaths. It’s just the story of a flirtation that has the possibility of blossoming into something more, and then changes once some…well, some new information comes to light, to borrow a phrase.
And yet, the simplicity is what makes the story work so well. Bertocci writes teenage girls well, and that’s no small feat; for many male authors, trying to write a teenage girl is a hilarious, sad endeavor. Bertocci, meanwhile, makes his narrator really live and breathe, immersing us not only in her crush, but in her wry comments on the world, her banter with friends, and her generally optimistic outlook on even the worst cold weather. No, The Snow Queen isn’t really interested in telling a sweeping, massive love story, but that’s what makes it work for the best; rather than spending time on complex plotting or absurd complications, he focuses on the character beats, and brings everything to the right ending, one that feels both earned and right, while dodging easy conclusions.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I missed Bertocci’s odder stuff; I loved the use of warring supernatural factions in The Usual Werewolves as a way of exploring high school society, and the pitch black comedy of Veronica’s Vengeance really worked for me. But even if I preferred his other work slightly more, I really liked The Snow Queen of Somerville High, which tells a simple story, but does it well, and evokes that tension, unease, and bliss of teenage love in a way that so many books attempt to and never quite succeed. It’s a great little romantic tale, one with a good heart, and written by a writer who’s really found a solid, reliable, interesting voice.