The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
Published by: Knopf
Published on: February 11, 2014
Page Count: 336
My Reading Format: Audiobook digital download provided to me by the publisher for consideration.
Audiobook Published by: Random House Audio
Narrators: Cassandra Campbell and Kathe Mazur
Audiobook Length: 10 hours 46 minutes
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook
Summary from the Publisher:
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, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching 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 deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
I had never read Jennifer McMahon before picking up a copy of The Winter People. I liked the fact that it was going to be a little spooky and it came highly recommended by two bloggers I trust more than anyone else. That the audiobook was narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Kathe Mazur sweetened the deal even further. Even with those auspicious beginnings, I was surprised by just how good The Winter People was.
The book begins with a second of a diary written in the early 1900s by Sara Harrison Shea. At a very young age she saw her first sleeper, a young girl from her town who had recently passed away. She talks of this sleeper with Auntie, the woman who helped raise her, and she has promised to leave Sara the information she needs to create a sleeper of her own when and if the time comes. We learn of Sara’s life and the role that sleepers play both through her diary and from her husband’s first person account of the events of their marriage. The story isn’t complete simply with the Shea family. In modern day, Ruthie is living in Shea’s old farmhouse with her mother and her much younger sister, Fawn. Ruthie would love to go away to college, but her widowed mother made her promise that she stay local for at least a year. She resents the curfew her mother still imposes and at first feels relief when she seemingly gets away with coming home late. The next morning, however, it becomes clear that her mother has disappeared. Both Sara and Ruthie’s stories are told together alongside each other. The little peeks into Sara’s life tended to double the creep factor I felt when the story returned to Ruthie and Fawn. The more I learned about Sara the more I feared for Ruthie. Logically I felt assured that Ruthie and Fawn would be okay, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to cover my eyes along the way.* Even still, the ending found a way to be even more unsettling had what I would have considered the worst happened.
While I’m positive The Winter People would be a great creepy read no matter how one approached it, I cannot imagine myself reading it any other way than in audio. Cassandra Campbell and Kathe Mazur were a perfect narrator tag team. They were on fire from the first moments of the audiobook. Mazur narrated Sara’s diary while Campbell narrated both Martin Shea and the story in modern time. Together they kept me hanging on every word. One foggy, rainy morning after a restless night they were the only thing that kept me awake on my commute into work. Mazur’s tone and pacing subtly ratcheted up the chill factor as the story progressed through the diary. She was Sara entirely and it felt more and more uncomfortable having this woman relate her experiences so close to me. For a while, Campbell’s narration of the other characters past and present was a relief. Her Ruthie specifically was pitch perfect. She brought back all of those angsty early adulthood feelings I remember so well. I could have reached out and touched her. That comfort didn’t last long. Listening to the The Winter People was like riding a roller coaster blind. It was exhilarating and made my stomach hurt. Regardless, I just wanted more.
In The Winter People Jennifer McMahon created a uniquely haunting world that could have very easily been found in my rural Virginia town as West Hall, Vermont. It made me thankful that my life is so ordinary and untouched by the supernatural. You certainly won’t catch me messing around with the dead, but I can’t make the same promise of McMahon’s books. I may need a break, but I’ve got to find out what else she has in store.
* A silly reaction when listening to an audiobook, I know. Ever since watching my first scary TV show (possibly the Thriller video premier) covering my eyes with my hands and pulling a blanket over my head been my go to coping mechanisms for shows/books/movies that creep me out. Don’t judge.