Review: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

April 1, 2014 Reviews 4 ★★★★

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
Published by Doubleday on February 11, 2014
Genres: Mystery/Thriller, Paranormal
Pages: 317
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
The New York Times bestselling author of Promise Not to Tell returns with a simmering literary thriller about ghostly secrets, dark choices, and the unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters . . . sometimes too unbreakable.

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara's farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara's fate, she discovers that she's not the only person who's desperately looking for someone that they've lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

The Winter People asks readers to imagine how they’d far go to try to connect to a loved one who has died.  If you think you might do anything to make that happen, The Winter People might make you reconsider.  This is a good old-fashioned ghost story that is alternately spooky and scary and eerie and heartbreaking.

The story is told from different view points and in different eras, beginning with the diary of Sara Harrison Shea, written in 1908.  As a young girl, Sara saw her first “sleeper,” the ghostly form of a dead child.  Sara asks her dear Auntie about the sleepers, and Auntie tells her that it’s possible for grieving people to call a deceased loved one back from the dead.  She promises to pass this information on to Sara when Sara is ready.  As the adult Sara writes her diary, she is distraught over the death of her young daughter, Gertie.  Her husband, Martin, while also distraught, is concerned by Sara’s odd behavior.  We readers know that Auntie’s promise to the young Sara must be weighing heavily on her mind.

In the present day, Ruthie lives in Sara’s house with her mother and her young sister, Fawn.  Ruthie wants to escape her small town of West Hall, Vermont, known as The West Hall Triangle due to the large number of unexplained deaths and murders over the years.  There are rumors of Satanism and a doorway to another dimension, which Ruthie dismisses as nonsense.  When Ruthie’s own mother disappears, however, she can no longer brush aside the stories.  In the present day, we also learn that Sara was brutally murdered, and this knowledge lends an ominous tone to Sara’s diary, as we wonder about the circumstances leading to her death.

Aside from the fact that they both inhabit/inhabited the same house, the connections between Ruthie and Sara are not immediately clear.  As the story switches between Sara and Ruthie (as well as a third, slightly less important narrator), we slowly work towards the truth of what happened to Gertie and to Ruthie’s mother.  There’s a constant feeling of danger of dread throughout both stories, and the supernatural element that appears early on helps to maintain the eerie atmosphere.  One of the biggest questions is whether the supernatural aspect is real or if it was conjured up in the minds of the characters.  We don’t get that answer until late in the story, and that was one of my favorite reveals.

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


4 Responses to “Review: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon”

  1. Angel (Spare Reads)

    This story sounds really interesting! Quite a mixture of suspense and spookiness. You have already piqued my curiosity and I’m so eager to find out what exactly happened, to Gertie, to Sara, and to Alice. Thanks for the recommendation 🙂
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