When the Snow Fell (Joel Gustafson Series #3)

When the Snow Fell (Joel Gustafson Series #3)

4.0 2
by Henning Mankell

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As it has in the past, the first snow of the year signifies to Joel Gustafson his very own New Year's Eve. So when the snow begins to fall on a cold November day, Joel gets busy making resolutions—three to be exact. Resolution #1: Live to be at least a hundred. He realizes that this will require toughening himself up by testing his physical limits.

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As it has in the past, the first snow of the year signifies to Joel Gustafson his very own New Year's Eve. So when the snow begins to fall on a cold November day, Joel gets busy making resolutions—three to be exact. Resolution #1: Live to be at least a hundred. He realizes that this will require toughening himself up by testing his physical limits. Resolution #2: Set his eyes on the sea for the first time. To do this, Joel knows he needs to help sort out his father Samuel's problems and get him back to the life he left behind—being a sailor at sea. Resolution #3: See a naked lady. At almost fourteen, Joel feels he needs to see the world—including females—in an entirely different light.
As the winter days pass, life becomes ever more complicated, but Joel is determined to keep his resolutions—for his father, for himself, and for their future.
When the Snow Fell follows Joel's journey as he realizes along the way that it will require determination, strength, and valor in order to truly become a young man.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, October 1, 2009:
"So honest about emotions, especially in a story filled with action"

Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
Joel Gustafson celebrates New Year's on the first day of snowfall rather than being tied to a calendar. The resolutions that he makes in the church graveyard at the stroke of midnight include the following: live to be 100 years old, which will require toughening himself up; solve his father's "big problem," namely that he is a lumberjack but was meant to be a sailor; and, finally, see a naked woman. He manages the third resolution in the course of this sequel to A Bridge to the Stars and Shadows in the Twilight, but readers will have to wait and see about the other two. Thirteen year old Joel has more on his plate than one would wish; his mom abandoned the family years ago, and his dad is prone to drinking binges, straining further their meager income. But he also has more typical problems—negotiating his first kiss, not liking school very much, and having a crush on an older woman. He becomes a hero in his small Swedish village when he saves an old man from freezing to death, but the man eventually dies anyway and that typifies the tenor of this tale. This is a very slow paced book with much of the story taking place in Joel's head and in small deeds; hence, it is potentially limited in appeal among the age group targeted. Thoughtful, compassionate, and introspective, Joel may be a character that appeals more to girls. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
VOYA - Steven Kral
Joel Gustafson, a fourteen-year-old growing up in a small town in northern Sweden during the 1950s, makes a set of New Year's resolutions to celebrate the first snowfall. He resolves to live to be one hundred, to see the sea, and, within the next year, to see a woman naked. Joel expects to have to overcome a few obstacles to complete his resolutions. It's the obstacles he did not expect that force him to reevaluate his relationships with people around him, his view of the world, and his hopes for the future. Extremely well written, Mankell's prose occasionally verges on poetry. His descriptions are vivid enough for the reader to almost feel the cold in the Swedish air, and his characters act and read like real people rather than constructs to move the plot forward. Especially deft is the portrayal of Joel's father's relapse into alcoholism after a failed love affair. Mankell shows both Joel's and his father's realization of each other's responsibility in what has been a cycle of recoveries and relapses. Ultimately this book is a vivid and carefully crafted portrait of a young teen. Although there is a plot involving Joel's efforts to complete his resolutions and a harrowing rescue during a blizzard, Joel's internal struggles and realizations are the meat of the novel. The novel might not appeal to reluctant readers, but many will find parts of themselves in Joel. Reviewer: Steven Kral
School Library Journal
Gr 7–9—While this is a companion to A Bridge to the Stars (2007) and Shadows in the Twilight (2008, both Delacorte), it is not necessary to have read those novels to understand the action and characters in this story. Joel, 14, is certain of two things: life gets more complicated over time, and winter always arrives unexpectedly. With the New Year approaching, he visits a graveyard to make three resolutions: to live to be 100 years old, to see the sea for the first time, and to see a naked woman. Enduring a winter night outside, trying to find a way to move away from his slowly decaying town, and seeking out the new shopkeeper's assistant are only a few incidents that follow. An awkward encounter with a classmate brings intense embarrassment, which is followed quickly by Joel's heralded heroic actions in an unrelated event. At times as spare and chilly as the Swedish winter, this book is an affecting portrayal of a young man's maturation and the difficulties of a troubled father-son relationship. Although the story is set in 1950s rural Sweden, readers will relate to Joel's mixed feelings about his father, his budding sexuality, and the fluidity of the humiliation and admiration that are bestowed upon Joel by his peers. Admittedly, the book's audience might be limited to mature and thoughtful readers who don't need constant action to keep the pages turning, but libraries that hold Mankell's related titles will want to add this one.—Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Joel (A Bridge to the Stars, 2007, and Shadows in the Twilight, 2008) is now almost 14 and feeling all the bewildering emotions that growing up entails. He leads a rich inner life, filled with wild dreams and endless imagination. Along with his yet-unachieved goal of getting his father to return to a seafaring life, he resolves to live to be 100, to see a naked woman, to become a rock star and to see the sea. He sets about reaching these goals in his own inimitable way. Although part of him wants to hold on to pieces of childhood, he finds maturity and gains insights as he plunges from one misadventure to the next. Mankell employs a third-person stream of consciousness, allowing Joel's thoughts to roam unchecked and uncensored. There is a natural flow in the syntax, translated by Thompson from the Swedish, and the author treats Joel with empathy and kindness. This third entry in the series is more successful than the second; readers will reconnect with Joel's essence and wonder what the next year will bring. (Fiction. 12-16)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Joel Gustafson Series, #3
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.52(w) x 5.80(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

—one —

Joel let the roller blind run up very fast, so as to make a loud smacking noise.
It was like firing a cannon to salute the new day.

He stared out the window in surprise. The ground was all white. He had been fooled yet again.

Winter always came creeping up on you when you least expected it. Joel had decided last autumn that he would never allow that to happen again. Before going to bed, he would make up his mind whether or not it would start snowing during the night. 

The problem was that you couldn't hear it snowing. It was different with rain. Rain pattered onto the corrugated iron roof over the cycle rack outside the front door. When the sun shone you couldn't hear that either, but the light changed. Wind was easiest of all. Sometimes when it was blowing really hard, it would whip into the walls so fiercely that it felt as if the house was about to take off.

But snow came creeping up on you. Snow was like an Indian. It moved silently and came when you least expected it.

Joel continued gazing out the window. So winter had arrived now. There was no getting away from it. And he'd been fooled again. Would it be a long, cold winter? The snow that had fallen now would stay the longest. Because it would be underneath all the snow that came later. The first to come was the last to thaw. And that would be at the end of April, or even the beginning of May.

By then Joel would be fourteen. He'd have grown almost half an inch. And lots of things that he knew nothing about now would have happened.

The snow had arrived.

And so it was New Year's Eve. Even if it was still only November.

That was how it was for Joel. He had decided. New Year's Eve would be when the first snow fell.

His very own New Year's Eve. When the ground was white, that was when he would make his New Year's resolutions. If he had any.
And he did. Lots.

It was cold on the floor. Joel fetched a pillow from his bed and put it under his feet. He could hear his dad clattering about in the kitchen with the coffeepot. Samuel didn't like Joel standing on his pillow, so he would have to be ready to move away smartly from the window if the door suddenly opened behind him. But Samuel rarely came into Joel's bedroom in the morning. There was a risk, but not much of one.
He watched a single snowflake slowly floating down to the ground, to be swallowed up by all the whiteness. 

There was a lot to think about when you were thirteen years of age. More than when you were twelve. Not to mention when you were eleven.

He thought he had learnt two things since it had started snowing last autumn: Life became more complicated as time passed by. And winter always came creeping up on you when you least expected it.

Joel thought about the previous evening. It had still been autumn then. After dinner he had pulled on his boots, grabbed hold of his jacket and leapt downstairs in three jumps. As it was a Sunday evening, the night train heading south stopped at the local railway station. It was rare for anybody to go aboard. And even rarer for anybody to get off. But you never knew. Besides, Joel used to slip little secret letters into the postbox in the mail coach. 

I have my eye on you. Signed J.

Always the same text. But he would write different names on the envelope, taken at random from his dad's newspaper. He made up the addresses himself.

9 Miracle Street. Or 12 Blacksmith Lundberg's Avenue.

Joel thought that there might be an address like that somewhere in the world. But as he also suspected that the post office had secret employees who spent all day and night tracing people who sent letters to invented addresses, he didn't dare to use the names of towns that really existed. And so he would study the latest issue of Where When How in the school library. That was an annual that listed things that had happened the previous year. Right at the back was a list of all the towns and villages in Sweden. It told you which places had grown bigger and which ones had become smaller. The little town where Joel lived always grew smaller every year. That confirmed Joel's suspicions. Nobody wanted to carry on living here. Nor did anybody want to move here. 

If things turned out really badly, he and Samuel would be the last two people in the place. He'd once tried to explain this to Samuel, but his dad only laughed.

"There'll always be people living by the river," he'd said.

"But does it have to be us?" Joel had asked.

Samuel didn't respond to that. He just laughed again, put on his glasses and started reading his newspaper. But Joel had been able to check in Where When How that the towns he had written on his envelopes did not exist in Sweden. Neither Joelsville nor Sprucehampton. 

He never stuck stamps on the envelopes. He drew them on instead. Old men with long noses. As the letters were fakes, he didn't think it was right to use genuine postage stamps. And then he had to be careful when he slipped them into the postbox on the mail coach. Stationmaster Knif had sharp eyes, and was apt to flare up and lose his temper. But Joel hadn't been found out so far. He'd written in his notebook that he had now sent eleven letters in all with the southbound express train.


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