Title: The Winter People
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Page Count: 382 pages
Rating: 5 / ✨✨✨✨✨
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.
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search 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 into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
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“Madness is always a wonderful excuse, don’t you think? For doing terrible things to other people.”
I honestly wasn’t sure how to review this one, because going into it, I didn’t really know much – and that turned out to be an amazing experience! So if you’d like to go in (mostly) blind, stop now! Buy the book, check it out from the library, or finally pull it off your shelf – like I did, because I had it sitting there for over a year before I got around to reading it and one of my biggest book regrets now is waiting so long! So go!!
If you’re here for my actual thoughts, then read on!
For a bit of backstory, as mentioned, I had this book for quite some time before reading it – and am so glad I finally did! I shared a photo of it on Instagram and asked if anyone would want to read it, and so many people either said they’d loved it or had been meaning to read it, too! One of my favorite bookstagrammers, Carissa, actually suggested we hold a group read – and I was absolutely down for that! The #winterpeoplereadalong was born, and it even got some attention from the author – Jennifer McMahon herself! She shared my photo of the book and urged people to participate in our readalong, which was awesome!
This book grabbed my attention and refused to let go. Both Carissa and I (and many people participating) read ahead of schedule, and finished the book before our deadline – oops! 😀 Being too into a book is a great problem to have, though, wouldn’t you agree?
This book is equal parts horrifying and heartbreaking, and while it can technically be categorized as a “zombie story”, it’s so much more than that. The story fluctuates between the past and the present, and is told from the perspective of a rotating cast of characters, each with a distinct voice and storyline. Sometimes things can get a bit muddled when writing this way, but with The Winter People, I didn’t find the change of date or character to be confusing at all.
The main characters are Sara (past) and Ruthie (present), who live in the same house many years apart. In the past, Sara has recently lost her child, and there’s a bit of a thriller whodunnit element to this tragic horror story as well with trying to find out who actually harmed the little girl. In the present, Ruthie deals with her recently missing mother, and with the little sister she’s left behind with. In addition to these two, there are supporting characters for each, and despite having such a large cast, each one’s personality still managed to cement a place in my head while reading, never mixing together but remaining as separate entities throughout.
I loved how spooky and suspenseful this entire book was, and although I didn’t always agree with the choices made by the characters, I did feel that all of their actions were true to who they were written to be, and nothing in the story felt forced.
I’ve read other books by Jennifer McMahon, but this is the first I’d consider ‘horror’. I’ve loved each of them just as much – if not more than – the last, though! She’s a gifted writer and I’d highly recommend reading anything you can get your hands on that she’s written!
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