True to its namesake, The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon will chill you to the bone. This book was on the “must read” list for a while. The Winter People flows seamlessly through time, following the story of grieving mother Sara Harrison Shea in the early 1900s, and 19-year-old Ruthie in the present day. Both women lived in the same house at the edge of the small town of West Hall, Vermont. The property borders the mysterious Devil’s Hand rock formation. In the surrounding area, townspeople often witness strange phenomenon and sometimes even return home to tell about it.
As with her story The Night Sister, McMahon is a master at slowly building suspense and keeping readers entranced by her storytelling. Like The Night Sister, The Winter People hooks readers in from the first page. As the story develops you often think you have it all figured out, then upon receiving another piece of the puzzle realize you know nothing. Unlike The Night Sister, The Winter People is strong from start to finish. The end of the story answers all of your questions neatly.
One must also appreciate McMahon’s abilities as a horror writer. Any author can create a bizarre and shocking landscape to shock readers into fear. It takes skills as a storyteller to write something deeply unsettling, yet still beautiful. McMahon captures Sara’s grief at the loss of her child so succinctly; you can’t help but feel the tragedy pouring from the pages.
In addition to capturing the persistent nature of grief, The Winter People also accurately portrays teenage angst, small town politics, sisterhood, and greed. The relationship between Ruthie and her young sister Fawn is challenging, yet sweet. The text captures how infuriating small town gossip can be, and how helpful it is to have close neighbors. Like all the best works of fiction, the book feels quite real.
So as you curl up in front of the fire this winter, consider reading The Winter People. Just make sure you lock the doors first. Perhaps you should close the curtains too. And definitely, don’t go in the woods. Never go in the woods.
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