Book Review: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio


Rating: 4 / 5

A blackberry winter is a colloquial expression describing a snowstorm that occurs well past winter months, which is pretty much what happens in Seattle in May.  The last time this happened was in the early 30s, and the strange occurrence has led Claire Aldridge to write a feature article about the latest snowstorm.  Although the topic of a blackberry winter seems frivolous at first, Claire comes across an old newspaper article about a young mother, Vera Ray, and the disappearance of her 3 year old son, Daniel Ray, during the 1933 freak snowstorm.  At the time, most people thought that Daniel had run away, but Claire knows that kids that age don’t leave home on their own, and thus, a story is born.

Blackberry Winter is story of Vera Ray, her life and her struggles, but is also the story of Claire Aldridge, not only trying to find out the truth behind Daniel’s disappearance, but also trying to figure out if her crumbling marriage is reparable or irrevocably broken.  Also Vera and Claire are separated by eight decades, their stories parallel one another.

I was moved by Vera’s story.  She never really got a chance at life, and had to make the best of what was handed to her.  It is easy to sympathize with her circumstance, and although it’s readily apparent she doesn’t have a change of fortune, I couldn’t help but want some miracle to happen.  Claire has also recently suffered a shattering and devastating loss.  As a result, her relationship with her husband, Ethan Kensington, has been on the rocks for the past year.  I haven’t quite figured out if I like Claire or not, but her character is not as compelling as Vera’s.  To me, it felt that Claire was the vehicle in which to tell Vera’s story, so with that in mind, I think it’s normal that Vera’s story tugged at the heartstrings more than Claire’s situation.

Sure, overall the ending was a little predictable, but that didn’t diminish Jio’s storytelling talent.  While I was a little disappointed that the form of this story is quite similar to Sarah’s Key (reporter investigating a past event discovers she has a connection to it), it still was a great read on its own.  And because sometimes I judge a book by its cover, I will definitely pick up Jio’s other novels.

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