The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
Published by Random House Audio on February 11, 2014
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Goodreads avg: 3.77 (as of 2018-06-19)
cw: child death, grief, gore, underage drinking/drug use
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West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
Much like A Head Full of Ghosts, The Winter People is another audiobook I happened to pick up that I found myself completely enthralled by. My new methodology for finding audiobooks is to sort my TBR by random and to go down the list until I find a book that a) is available on audiobook and b) has a narrator that I like. I listen to the sample and if I like it, I download it and take off. It seems to be working fairly well for me.
The Winter People doesn’t fit neatly into any box. It’s a bit of horror, a bit of fantasy, a bit of historical fiction, and a bit of thriller. It actually has two narrators, as it switches not only between past and present but also between POVs within each time period. It’s hard to nail down, and the reader can’t even be entirely sure what’s happening until close to the end. I will say that it does a pretty good job of answering all your questions, though, so if you hate ambiguous endings you’ll probably like this one.
There are a fair amount of characters, but Jennifer McMahon does a good job of giving them all their own unique voices (well, the narrators probably help there too). I never really found myself mixing them up, and felt like they were all distinctly different people. My favorite is probably Sara Harrison Shea herself, in part because her narrator was unbelievably good. Both of the narrators were great, in fact. I also loved the setting. I have a soft spot in my heart for books set in New England, particularly when I know a lot of the places mentioned. This book took place mainly in Vermont, with a few flashbacks to scenes in Boston.
My biggest (and only, really) issue with this book was the ending. There was a scene that I was positive was the end and I was almost entirely satisfied with where it left off — but then it continued. In my opinion, this kind of caused the book to fizzle out and made for an awkward finish. It meandered just a bit too long. I also felt like things weren’t wrapped up entirely well. There were reasons given for everything that happened, but some of them felt so artificial. Like, it felt like the author couldn’t come up with an organic way to incorporate some stuff into the story but decided to keep it in anyway. Those minor reasons were why I knocked off half a star, they kind of pulled me out of the story I was until that point so invested in.
Overall, I thought this was an incredible read. Halfway through, I started adding more Jennifer McMahon books to my TBR and will definitely prioritize picking up something else by her. I highly recommend anyone with any interest pick this up. If you enjoy horror stories, particularly those with a historical setting, you’re going to love The Winter People.
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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)
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