Review: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

BLACKBERRY WINTER: a period of cold weather in late spring when the blackberries are in bloom.

As a native Floridian, I had never herd the term blackberry winter. A late-season snowstorm? In MAY? I was intrigued. Then the story began…

May 1, 1933. A late-season snow storm blankets Seattle. Struggling single-mom Vera Ray must leave her young son bundled in their shabby apartment while she slogs through the snow to work her night shift as a maid in the upscale Olympic Hotel. She kisses her son good-bye. . .and never sees him again. Police refuse to search for the boy and consider the 3-year-old to be a runaway, just another faceless loss during the class struggles plaguing the Depression Era. Her simple life disappears faster than the snow melt, and Vera forces herself to grasp ANY option that may help her find her beloved Daniel.

May 1, present day. A late season snowstorm surprises Seattle reporter Claire Aldridge. She has been stumbling through the last year in a haze of grief, unable to come to terms with the results of a horrific accident. With a marriage on the rocks and a disintegrating career to save, she delves into the 80-year-old mystery of the missing boy.

The story bounces in time between the two women, sharing snippets of their stories, pulling us along until we find the connections which bind them together. And whether it be fate, serendipity, or artistic license, the coincidences cropping up during Claire’s search for the truth are as heavy as a foot of wet snow.

As a mother this story hit me with a a punch. Losing a child is a parent’s greatest fear, and watching both women throw themselves into the search for the vanished toddler and cope with a devastating loss will pull at any parent’s heartstrings. Claire’s quest to discover what happened to Daniel is really a quest to save herself. If she can just find out if that lost child survived, if his story had a happy ending, perhaps she can start living her own life again.

Both women’s stories are revealed with an air of mystery. In Claire’s present day story we wonder what happened to her marriage. Will she be lured away from it by the kind guy at the coffee shop? What’s the major trauma that broke her spirit? Yet I found Vera’s strength and story far more gripping. Who is Daniel’s father? Why is he allowing her to live such a destitute life? And will she ever find her child?

And if you loved Sarah’s debut novel The Violets of March, you will appreciate a cameo appearance during Claire’s visit to Bainbridge Island. Sometimes it’s so nice to catch up with old friends.

I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s since her days on The Debutante Ball blog, and Blackberry Winter did not disappoint. While the plot is slightly predicable, the story is highly readable and tough to put down. Blackberry Winter is a perfect light read to snuggle up with during an early fall cold snap. Keep a box of tissues nearby, just in case.

Blackberry Winter
by Sarah Jio
$15 [paperback] $9.99 [Kindle] 
320 pages

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Blackberry Winter is the October She Reads Book Club selection. For more about Sarah Jio, links to other blogger’s reviews of the book, or suggestions for other great reads visit SheReads.org.

*I received this book courtesy of Plume and the She Reads Blogger Network. All opinions are my own.

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