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Book Review: Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello

Book Review: Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello

Not only is Abiola Bello’s Love in Winter Wonderland a cosy, charming love story in and of itself, but it’s also a wider celebration of community, family, bookshops and music, giving it all the hallmarks of an endearing winter romance that’s full of warmth and heart. Between the Christmas setting, the swoon-worthy connection between its lead characters and the creativity and determination they both show when they unite with their common goal, Love in Winter Wonderland quickly asserts itself as a magical, uplifting read for YA readers to fall in love with over the festive season.

At college, everyone knows Trey Anderson. He’s popular and handsome, and most likely to be found working in beloved, Black-owned independent bookshop Wonderland when he’s not hanging out with his best friend Boogs or his girlfriend Blair. Although he loves his family’s bookshop, Trey knows that he doesn’t want to take it over when he’s older, instead setting his sights on trying to make it as a singer – just as soon as he can get past his crippling stage fright. Creative and quirky artist Ariel is less popular, and more than happy to just keep her head down and work on her portfolio so she can secure a place in the prestigious Artists’ Studio and follow in her late father’s footsteps. Tuition is expensive, though, and as Ariel sets out in search of a part-time job to help her save money, an opening at Wonderland may just be the answer.

While Trey and Ariel don’t exactly get off on the right foot, the knowledge that Wonderland is losing money and on the brink of closing down for good soon gives both teens common ground to work towards. With a Christmas Eve deadline hanging over their heads, Trey and Ariel have just a few weeks to get over their differences and raise enough money to save Wonderland. As their campaign gains more and more attention, Trey and Ariel find themselves spending more time together and it’s not long before the pair start growing closer and developing feelings too. But with the odds stacked against them, will Trey and Ariel be able to find their happily ever after?

He looks at me with his eyes half closed, and suddenly there’s this weird energy between us. Are we having a moment? For a split second I think we’re going to kiss, and it makes me nervous – but the good, excited kind.”

Love in Winter Wonderland is a YA rom-com that feels like its tailor-made to be a holiday film. Everything from the way Trey and Ariel meet and their initial misunderstandings to their starting to work together and their campaign to save the small local business from developers feels like it’s straight out of a Hallmark or a Netflix movie; it only adds to the cosy, joyful atmosphere of the novel while reading it. In this sense, the novel is also a little overly familiar, hitting predictable plot beats, tried-and-tested character twists and all unfolding over a relatively short period of time. But it’s the kind of formula that Christmas romances have been built on for years and it all adds to the fun of the reading experience. It helps too that both Trey and Ariel have clear goals that they’re working towards, with Ariel in particular displaying a particularly admirable drive and determination in the face of some painful and personal setbacks, that you want to see them succeed.

Trey and Ariel’s growing relationship too is a cute and charming love story, built on mutual interest, casual flirtation and a genuine attraction that weathers what feels like just a few complications too many for the length of time in which the novel takes place. Even so, the slow shift in feelings is beautifully and maturely done, even if it would have been nice to see Trey and Ariel speak to each other with some more depth and meaning than they perhaps do otherwise. In each of their narratives, Trey and Ariel are open about their personal conflicts, from Trey’s stage-fright and fear for his family’s business and future, to Ariel’s mental health and binge-eating disorder to her grief for her father after his death. But they rarely, if ever, discuss these things with each other, which could have helped deepen their understanding and emotional connection if shown.

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Nevertheless, Love in Winter Wonderland feels like a joyful, sparkling delight and a true celebration of the British high street, the power of community and, of course, a love of books and bookshops bringing people together. This is ultimately a feel good read that, considering the Black love story at its heart, offers some much needed representation in the YA romance sphere. By the time you finish this book, you’re sure to be left with an even deeper respect for independent businesses, a new Christmas playlist on repeat and a big smile on your face too.


Love in Winter Wonderland was published by Simon & Schuster on 10 November 2022

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