Book Feature Series: The Winter People
After reading The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon in less than 24 hours, my head is honestly still processing this read, even as I type this post. Set in rural Vermont, this story ties together the eerie tale of two families living in the same house -- separated by over a century. When Ruthie returns home from a night out with her boyfriend, she finds her mother missing. Her mother's cup of tea rests cold on the counter, her room is empty, and Ruthie's 6 year--old sister, Fawn, is fast asleep in her bed. As we learn more about Sara Harrison Shea through her diary, we begin to understand the horrible tragedies that this house has witnessed, and wonder -- could the events of 1908 have something to do with a present--day missing person?
What I loved:
Shifting POV -- I'm a big fan of books with multiple storylines coming together -- when it's done well -- and this one does just that. As we shift between Ruthie, Sara, Martin, and Katherine, we ultimately piece together their intertwining stories to see a larger picture. The shift between some of these seemingly unconnected characters falls into a trope that I love dearly. Guessing how they'll all connect -- what will bring them (and the story) all together -- this was done nicely.
Genre blending and bending -- Supernatural, mystery, thriller... the elements all blend seamlessly in this storyline. The supernatural elements were just plain eerie and fueled my curiosity to understand what happened. We have missing persons and murders, along with a sleeper -- a human who has died and been called back from death. One of the elements this genre blend did really well was the creepy factor. This book wasn't scary to me -- which is right; it shouldn't have been -- but it absolutely creeped me the hell out. It was eerie and disturbing and unsettling in just the right way. Kind of icky, but fascinating.
Characters -- If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: I'm character driven. Give me a fantastic storyline, but a main character I can't connect with, and I won't be able to enjoy the book. I have to feel something for the characters. Ruthie and Fawn were fun to navigate this crazy story with -- Fawn is lovable and a bit otherworldly herself, while Ruthie tries to cling to reason, but is dragged through a nearly impossible situation. I couldn't help but feel for Sara -- her loss and hardship were heartbreaking, and I found myself continually asking myself what she might be capable of.
Historical elements -- I will shout this one from the rooftops! I LOVE anything that ties a present day mystery to the past!!!! (just look at all those exclamation marks) Give me a dark secret deeply rooted in the past, a secret so ghastly that it threatens the present. Give me the supernatural element that most people "don't believe to be true" -- but that everyone talks about. And give me gutsy characters who dive deeply into the past to make sense of the future. Oh, wait. This book did just that ;)
What I wanted but didn't receive:
Character development -- Of course, since I'm character driven, I'd love to see more character development. My main complaint with many thrillers is the characters. I often struggle to connect with them, and I find their development lacking. I will say, I do feel like McMahon was leaps and bounds ahead of the usual I've read in the genre, so I was very pleased with that. But these characters go through a lot -- and for some of what Ruthie endures and discovers, it does seem glossed over. And for Auntie -- a little more background would be nice. I don't come out of this story understanding Auntie or her motivations one bit -- and she plays a huge role in the storyline. There is so much to unpack -- and I get it -- we don't often get the luxury of unpacking in this genre -- but for these characters to have so much potential and to have that multi-dimensional element that I see often lacking -- I would love to better understand the characters.
The ending -- This story builds so well. The suspense, the clues, the stakes... they all climb higher and higher. And the ending just seems a bit anticlimactic. Don't get me wrong -- I actually like the way it all turns out, but I think this is where we could have unpacked things a little more, or have a bit more action in the cave scene. When we discover why the captor did what they did, I thought there might be a bit more negotiation there... or something. (I'm really trying to bring this point across without spoiling anything.)
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It surprised me in some way, and part of the ending was satisfying, even if I longed for a little more to it. The characters and storyline kept me turning the pages, and I'll definitely read more from this author. I'm not often impressed when it comes to the thriller genre -- but I absolutely love a thriller when it's done well, and this one gets a stamp of approval.