”Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator’s.
Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 ‘blackberry winter’ storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways…”
Thoughts: In 2011, Sarah Jio was a name frequently bandied about as an author that deserves watching as she quickly garnered rave reviews with her first two novels. With Blackberry Winter her third novel, she shows that hers is not a flash-in-the-pan notoriety but rather a well-deserved beginning to what one hopes will be a long and successful career.
Blackberry Winter tells the two separate but mysteriously connected stories of Vera Ray and Claire Aldridge. Vera is a single mother at a time where single mothers were practically social pariahs. Claire is a young, successful career woman who is facing her own demons. Both experience the most painful of losses a woman can ever experience. Even better, the twists of fate do not stop there. As the story flits back and forth between Vera’s experiences to Claire’s investigations, a reader is brought along on a ride full of happenstances that are a bit too predictable. The coincidences are too convenient, the connections between the two women are too pat for believability.
Even worse is the theme of the haves versus the have-nots that runs throughout the story. Vera’s abject poverty and the issues that brings is in sharp contrast to Claire’s abundance of wealth and her issues, and if it were not for Claire’s fundamental loss and pain that no amount of money can fix, it would be all too easy to become disgusted with her seemingly insignificant marital problems as compared to Vera’s much more basic human needs of shelter and food.
Yet, as annoying as predictability can be and as clichéd as the rich-versus-poor theme is, Blackberry Winter is utterly captivating. Ms. Jio rises above the clichés to create a story about the most basic of needs – love and security. Claire and Vera, in their collective pain and regardless of their financial backgrounds, are each seeking solace, and their neediness drives the emotional connection between character and reader. Their emotions are raw and brutal, and the resolving of the mystery behind Vera’s loss assuages only the edges of those brittle emotions.
Highly evocative and completely haunting, Blackberry Winter showcases Ms. Jio’s writing abilities. Vera and Claire are brimming with life, and her descriptions of Seattle, both past and present, conjure up mental images of the city as well as drawing on the other senses of smell and hearing. It is an absorbing story, one in which it is all too easy to finish within a few hours, and given the descriptions of cold and snow throughout the novel, it is a perfect Sunday afternoon fall/winter read.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reader Program for my review copy!