Secrets, Ghosts, and Twists and Turns: The Winter People

I am going to write this review based purely on memory (I was eager to immediately lend the book to a friend) and with a bad cold, so hopefully I will do the book justice.

The Winter People is Jennifer McMahon’s latest literary thriller and ghost story.

The book starts off with words from the diary of a woman named Sara. Sara lived in a small town in Vermont at the turn of the 20th century. Through a brief reflection Sara intimates about her childhood, that her mother had died while giving birth to her and that she was raised by the family’s Native American housekeeper/nanny whom she called “Auntie.” Auntie raised Sara and her brother as her own but her fierce personality and seeming mysteriousness as a Native American renders her a suspicious figure among some in the community.

It is also in this early chapter that Sara describes her first encounter with a “sleeper,” someone who comes back from the dead, in a process that Auntie seems to know quite a bit about and will later share with Sara.

From this point on, the book alternates between Sara’s diary and the present-day story of 19-year-old Ruthie, the current resident of Sara’s home in Vermont more than a century later. Sara’s diary reveals the sudden death of her young daughter Gertie while Ruthie wakes up one day to find her mother missing. In her attempt to find possible clues about her mother’s disappearance, Ruthie finds a boarded up closet in her mother’s bedroom as well as a handgun, drivers licenses of a couple she does not recognize, and Sara’s diary. As the story moves forward, we begin to understand the connection between Sara’s diary, Ruthie’s mother’s disappearance, and the two people pictured in the drivers licenses. Ultimately, this is a story about the mother-daughter bond and about how far a mother will go to care for and protect her child.

I raced through this book. There were a number of twists and turns that made the book hard to put down and I found the ghostly element to be sufficiently creepy to enjoy a few chills but not so frightening that I couldn’t sleep. As a greater fan of realistic fiction than fantasy, I was also satisfied that some of the explanations for the mysteries in the story made sense; that is, not everything was due to supernatural forces.

The book is more plot driven than anything else, and the beginning of the climax felt a bit like a made-for-TV movie to me, but all in all I quite enjoyed the book as a fun, atmospheric, and satisfying break from the classics that I have been reading. I would be interested in checking out Jennifer McMahon’s other books.

Have you read any of Jennifer McMahon’s books? Do you read ghost stories?

20 thoughts on “Secrets, Ghosts, and Twists and Turns: The Winter People

  1. I put this book on hold at the library after reading about it for the first time. Since then, there have been several favorable reviews about it, including this one. Since I don’t usually read ghost-y books, it’s nice to pick out a good one! The Ghost of the Mary Celeste had ghosts/spirits in it, but not in a spooky way. I wouldn’t mind reading more scary/ghost/thriller stories, but I don’t feel confident picking out the right ones. This one sounds like a good bet. And it has a nice cover! I’ve never read anything by Jennifer McMahon before either.

    • Yes, I think this one is a safe one to start with. Though there is that supernatural element, the main story line has to do with families and the parent-child relationship in particular. That made it accessible and relevant for me, and the spookiness added a fun touch. I’ll be interested in hearing what you think of it!

  2. The Winter People is already on my to-read list, but now I’m very eager to read it. I love thrillers where there is a connection between characters you least suspect connections between. Although I love fantasy, I appreciate realistic fiction and explanations for supernatural elements in a story. Sometimes, I don’t want to suspend all beliefs. Looking forward to reading this! Thanks for the review!

    • That’s great! Yes, I too appreciate that I didn’t have to suspend all beliefs – that’s a good way of putting it. You write very thoughtful reviews so I’ll definitely be interested in reading your take on it. I hope you like it!

  3. I read about this book, but wasn’t sure if it was one I wanted to put on my list. So nice to read your review and learn that’s a good, thrilling read. The emphasis on mother-daughter relationships at different points in history appeals to me.

    • I felt the same way at first but eventually decided to just go for it after seeing others’ reviews. Yes, I think the human element (the mother-daughter bit) made it more appealing and accessible to me. I hope you like it if you do end up picking it up.

  4. I like reading mysteries, but I’ve never read anything that involved ghosts. I tend to get nervous reading the supernatural, but I may give this a chance. Thanks for bringing to attention a book I wouldn’t otherwise consider.

  5. Pingback: A Selection of Great Blog Posts March 2014 | Consumed by Ink

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