Sarah Jio's new book, Blackberry Winter (release date Sept. 25, 2012), follows The Violets of March and The Bungalow. Jio has quickly made a name for herself writing high quality women's fiction-fiction that focuses on relationships familial and romantic, and the common experiences that bond women into strong friendships. Blackberry Winter is a satisfying blend of mystery and love story.
In Blackberry Winter, a title taken from a cold weather phenomenon that happens in mid to late spring, we have two main characters separated by several decades. First, we have Vera Ray, a poor single mother during the first years of the Depression. One night, she tucks her three-year old son Daniel into bed and leaves to go to work at a nearby hotel. When she returns, Daniel is missing. The only clue she can find is his teddy bear lying in the snow that fell in a freakish late spring storm, erasing the tracks of the kidnapper. Despite the obvious fact that three-year olds don't run away, the police refuse to help her. Fast forward to the present, and you find Claire Aldridge, a reporter at a daily in Seattle. When an unexpected late spring snow storm blankets the area, Claire is tasked with writing a feature on the event. She discovers the story of Vera and Daniel, and becomes determines to find out what happened to the boy. Little did she know how closely she and Vera Ray would be connected.
This book has the benefit of being more than one thing. On one level, it is a mystery, and a pretty decent one. It kept me guessing, which is fairly hard to do given the number of mysteries and thrillers I read. Even when I thought I had something figured out it ended up being slightly different than I thought. On another level, it is the story of one woman and her journey from grief to healing, from betrayal and guilt to acceptance. While Vera's experiences are the driver for most of the action in the story, the emotional impact comes not just from her grief and anxiety at the loss of Daniel, but from Claire's painful journey through her own tragedy. The way her relationship with her husband changes from the beginning to the end of the story mirrors what I know happens to many couples who experience the loss of a child, even a miscarriage.
My only (tiny) criticism was the character of Charles, Vera's love and father of Daniel. He was fairly one-dimensional to me, and frankly a little too good to be true. Maybe it's just the cynic in me, but I had trouble believing his transformation from son of wealth and privilege to crusader for the poor, and I didn't find it very likely that he would honestly believe that he could introduce his poor servant girlfriend to his family and expect them to embrace her. But, as I said, that is a teeny, tiny criticism. Overall, I think that this is another solid performance for Ms. Jio!