Jio, S. (2012). Blackberry winter. New York: Plume.
Paperback $15.00, Kindle $7.99, 320 pages
Author’s Website and Interviews:
Annotation: Daniel Ray had mysteriously disappeared in the night leaving his mother in search of answers buried as deep as the falling snow outside.
Summary (WARNING-SPOILER ALERT): It is May 1933 and Vera Ray, a single mother, is forced to make the hard decision to leave her three year old son Daniel home alone while she works the night shift at the Olympic Hotel. A freak snowstorm has blown into town, known as a “blackberry winter,” leaving her worried about her son. Upon returning from her night shift, she finds her son missing and his teddy bear Max face down in the snow in the alley near their home. He has been abducted but no one, not even the police seem concerned with helping someone in Vera’s low social status. The book shifts to present day and introduces Clair Aldridge, a reporter who has been assigned to cover the snowstorm which has hit Seattle exactly 80 years to the day it hit in 1933. The story jumps back and forth between the past and the present and the connection between Vera and Claire is revealed. Claire herself has experienced the loss of a child when she was eight months pregnant and was hit by a car while running, ultimately loosing the baby. As she digs deeper into the blackberry winter of 1933, she is determined to find out what really happened to Daniel and who was responsible for Vera’s murder. As the truth begins to emerge, Claire begins to realize her husband’s connection to Vera and Daniel, and how the Kensington family could be destroyed if the truth were to come out. Claire must choose between bringing justice to Vera and her son or betray her husband and his family by publishing her story.
Evaluation: Jio’s writing is compelling and the parallel narrative frames the story in a way that captures the bond between two grieving mothers, Vera and Claire. I enjoyed that the book was character-driven as it allowed me to connect with the characters on a deeper level. Although the two stories take place almost a century apart, they complement each other and reveal truths which impact Claire and her family in present day. Jio creates strong female characters who are forced to overcome insurmountable odds and who must carry on in the face of great tragedy. It is beautifully written and the story of Vera and Claire will resonate with any one who has lost a child or true love.
Genre: Mystery (Women’s Fiction)
Appeal Factors: Character-driven, intricately plotted, bittersweet, melancholy, moving, and compelling
Read-alike Titles and Authors:
- Tatiana, by Martin Cruz Smith
- Lost in the Forest, by Sue Miller
- He’s Gone, by Deb Caletti
Awards: 2012 New York Times Bestseller, 2012 USA Today Bestseller
- Ask questions that put the audience/reader in the shoes of Vera, Claire, or Charles. If your son disappeared without a trace, would you have turned to Lon for help knowing what he demands in return? Would Charles have been disowned by his family had he married Vera? If you were Charles, would you have chose love over money?
Book Discussion Questions:
- Do you think the story’s parallel narrative helped reveal deeper truths about the connection between Vera and Claire?
- Why did Vera turn to Lon knowing what type of man he was? Did you believe he would truly help her? Why or why not?
- Charles and Vera seemed like soul mates. Were you surprised by how their relationship turned out? Do you think Vera was justified in keeping Daniel a secret from him?
- What is Warren’s connection to Vera and her son Daniel? How does the revelation of the Kensington family’s role in Daniel’s disappearance and Vera’s murder impact Claire and Ethan? Does this provide closure for them? Why did Warren never reveal his true identity?
I had never heard of Sarah Jio before reading this book and wanted to explore new authors, especially one whose work combines mystery with romance. I read the back of the book and was instantly hooked by the fact that it is a parallel narrative recounted by Vera Ray in 1933 and Claire Aldridge in present day. The title also drew me in as I was curious to find out what “blackberry winter” meant and its role in the story. I discovered this book while searching for books to add to my Kindle and came across this one under the mystery section on Amazon.