Title: Blackberry Winter
Author: Sarah Jio
Genre: Contemporary fiction, historical fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
First line: An icy wind seeped through the floorboards and I shivered, pulling my gray wool sweater tighter around myself.
Goodreads blurb: Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator’s.
Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 “blackberry winter” storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways.
When I unexpectedly received a copy of Blackberry Winter, Sarah Jio’s latest novel, in the mail, I found a spot for it in my reading for this month. I didn’t want to put it on the shelf to languish for months while I read other books, even though I have other review commitments still pending. I knew that when I immersed myself in its pages, I would find myself drawn into a world that would keep me spellbound, that I would meet women who I could understand and empathize with, and that the book’s dual storyline would pull me back through the years into a historical mystery.
With Blackberry Winter, this author has taken firm hold of her writing niche – the dual storyline novel, one contemporary, one historical, with the storyline set in the past containing a mystery. This worked well for her with both The Violets of March and The Bungalow, and works equally as well with this story.
Jio knows how to write about women, their complex emotions, their fierce love for their children. In this book, she takes Claire, a woman grieving her own loss, and leads her to the story of Vera Ray, a young, unwed mother, who, in the midst of the Depression, is trying to simply keep food on the table and a roof over her head for herself and her three-year-old son Daniel. When Daniel disappears, the depths of tearing grief that Vera experiences roll off the page, and when Claire learns of this unsolved mystery, she knows she must search out the answer.
As she researches the story, Claire is also dealing with her own failing marriage, and trying to rebuild her emotional life. As I read, watching her make that journey was painful and joyful and heart-rendingly beautiful. I was pleasantly surprised with the resolution at the end. While I had guessed one part of Vera’s mystery, I really had no idea which direction Claire’s life was going to take, and was so happy that it wasn’t the direction I feared. (Sorry to be cryptic, but don’t want to give too much away!)
The biggest strength of Jio’s writing, in my opinion, is that she gives both of the storylines in her books equal weight and depth. Too often, dual storyline novels will have one plot that works well, and one that is just okay. But that isn’t the case with any of Jio’s books, and I will be impatiently waiting for her next one.