Wednesday, April 9, 2014

'The Winter People'

I've been in the mood to read a good ghost story.  After checking my shelves and not finding what I really hungered for, I was surprised to discover that one of my library holds finally came in.

And it was a ghost story.  Strange, huh?

Although written in a very simple style, 'The Winter People', by Jennifer McMahon, pulled me in and didn't let go.  It is full of spooky atmosphere and wonderful suspense.  

West Hall, Vermont is a place of strange disappearances and old legends.  The most mysterious mystery is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who is found dead in the field behind her house in 1908, just months after the tragic death of her young daughter, Gertie.  Some townspeople say that Sara's ghost walks the streets after midnight, and some of the people leave offerings outside to prevent her from coming inside.

The story begins with an diary entry from that time, and the first sentence had me intrigued. When she was nine years old, Sara Harrison sees a childhood that had died from typhoid fever.  Sara questions Auntie, the family friend and the area's witch woman, about bringing dead people back to life.

But Auntie tells Sara that she will write down the instructions, seal them in an envelope, and when Sara is old enough to understand, she'll find it.

The story then moves forward to tell the story of Ruthie Washburne, a teenager sharing an isolated farmhouse with her younger sister and her mother.  Like any typical teen, Ruthie dreams of escaping the town and defying her mother's insistence that they live off the grid. But the story takes a dark turn when Ruthie comes downstairs one morning and discovers that her mother has disappeared.  And it gets even stranger when she finds Sara's diary hidden under the floorboards in her mother's bedroom.

Jennifer McMahon
At once a mystery, and then a strange ghost story, 'The Winter People' kept me on my toes, and I really didn't want to reach the end. It kept me guessing, kept me in suspense, kept me from putting it down.

But I did.  As I said, I didn't want to reach the end, despite the fact that I would gaze longingly at it while I was working on my own story.

I hope that this talented author's next novel grabs me as quickly.

'The Winter People', published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, can be found in your local library (prepare for a long wait), and your favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0385-538497

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