Thus when I want a good story built around a mystery and trimmed with (yes) love, I turn to Sarah Jio. Her newest novel, Blackberry Winter, showcases her talent at weaving past and present to create an engaging tale featuring multidimensional characters.
Blackberry Winter, set in Seattle, takes place during the first week of May as the city copes with a freak late snowfall. In 1933 Vera Ray, an unwed mother of a much-loved toddler, does what's necessary to hold on to her job, pay her rent, and put food on the table, as the Depression settles in for the long haul. In the twenty-first century, Claire Aldridge is still grieving after an accident the previous spring changed her life forever. Once a crack feature writer, she now has to force herself to show up at the newspaper and barely speaks to her husband.
When her editor asks for a six-thousand-word article tying the two late-spring weather events together, Claire can't find the hook. But then she reads an archived news story about a how a three-year-old boy went missing during the first hours of the 1933 storm.The assignment reignites Claire's curiosity and the missing child touches her heart; she's determined to learn the fate of the boy and his mother.
Besides the underlying mystery of the missing child, Blackberry Winter explores several other issues.One of the most prominent is social class divisions. The 2010s and the 1930s share more than a coincidental late snowfall. Jio clearly articulates the insurmountable gap between rich and poor as it existed for Vera Ray in the early years of the Depression. As the rich drank Champagne and boated on the lake, hardworking citizens were losing their homes; readers cannot help but recognize the similarities to modern-day America.
As with Jio's earlier novels, Blackberry Winter is sure to be hit with book clubs. Besides Vera's and Claire's choices and the mystery of the boy, readers will want to talk about motherhood, social justice, family secrets, trust, and friendship as well as the future of the major characters.
Although the connection between past and present in the novel is not all that difficult to figure out, Sarah Jio is a good storyteller, and Blackberry Winter is great way to spend an afternoon.
Blackberry Winter is the She Reads book club selection for October. To see what other club members thought of the book, to enter a great giveaway, and to join the conversation, visit the She Reads website.
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Published by Penguin USA / Plume 2012
Source: review (see review policy)
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