I haven't fully expressed my love for reading on this blog, but if you know me you know you can always find me with a book on my person. Living in NYC, I spend a fair amount of time waiting. Waiting for the subway, waiting on the subway, waiting for a table to open up, waiting for a meeting. I find the best way to pass the time is read. So, I do. A lot.
Julie, over at Peanut Butter Fingers, has been having a book club for quite some time now but this is the first time I am participating. The book for the month was Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio. I haven't read anything by her prior to this but I was really intrigued by the summary and that beautiful cover (does anyone else chose things by how pretty it looks?). I'll give you a quick recap and then give my thoughts on the book...
In early May of 1933 a freak snow storm slams the city of Seattle, leaving the streets blanketed in snow. A mother tucks her three-year-old son into bed, kisses him goodnight, and heads off to work the night shift at a local hotel. When she returns home in the morning, her son is missing with only a teddy bear left behind. Vera Ray begins the incredibly trying, grief ridden task of trying to find her son, Daniel.
Almost a century later, Seattle is, again, facing an early May snow storm. Journalist Claire Aldridge wakes up to snow falling outside her window and an editor calling to get her started on a story. Claire barely has the heart to go to work but when she finds the story of Vera and Daniel, something sparks inside of her. Claire feels a connection to this mother who lost her child and she won't stop at anything to reveal their story.
Blackberry Winter moves between present day and the 1930's, as we get a glimpse at the lives of two women struggling over losing a child. Through the novel we see how one woman's pain in the 1930's can bring another woman back to life.
I found this book completely and utterly heart-wrenching. Honestly, just writing the summary has brought tears to my eyes. Jio has a wonderful way of making you fall in love with her characters. I cheered for Charles and my stomach dropped at any mention of Lon or Josie. I pined for Vera and held my breath for Claire. Each character was distinct but drew parallels between the main characters' stories.
Another strength in Jio's writing came from her descriptions of Seattle. I have never been there myself, but I felt transported each time I picked up the book. I love to escape into a good book and Jio really allowed me to do this with her writing. By the end of the novel I had a clear visual of each important location and where everything took place. Seriously, I want to go to the Olympic Hotel on my next vacation.
Some minor problems I had with the book did not ruin my overall experience. I found that the book was slow to start. I think that this is, partially, because of the mystery plot line of what happened to Claire that she was so fragile and messed-up from. I feel it would have been a lot easier just to state it and let it be. Instead, we were treated to a couple of chapters of faux-suspense with a non-shocking reveal. I understand the accident has an important link between Vera and Claire but I think it could have been done a little better.
However, by the end I was able to overlook anything I did not like because I was too caught-up with how everything would turn out. I had a pretty good feeling that Josie took Daniel (crazy bird lady, just made sense) but I had no idea who Daniel turned out to be. Those last chapters with the reveal of Daniel and his return to his child home just made me cry. There was something so stunning about watching an old man near the end of life become a child again. It was a perfect resolve to the book.
I would recommend Blackberry Winter to anyone looking for an enthralling read. If you love a mystery/history/self-finding book, then prepared to be inspired and awed.