This was my first Jennifer McMahon book, which I started because of a Litsy buddy read. Normally I read wintry books in the summer, when I need to feel cooler! Nevertheless, I dived in and enjoyed the storytelling.

Fundamentally, The Winter People is about grief and ghosts. If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, one of your main wishes was probably for just a few more hours or days with them. So you can say what you need to say. Or feel their hand in yours just one more time.

That’s exactly what Sara Harrison Shea wishes for—a little more time with her sweet daughter Gertie. And, what do you know, she’s got directions on how to bring her back from the wise woman / indigenous mystic who raised her. Now, this happens in 1908, so all we have of the tale is some pages of her diary.

Sara’s niece publishes the diary, and remains a part of her hometown legend up to the present day. Thus, McMahon also sets part of her book in today’s time. Ruthie, a teenager who lives in Sara’s house is wondering why her mom disappeared overnight. She and her little sister tear the house apart for clues, and come upon some of Sara’s writings. Thus begins a winding path with some added characters and two timelines.

My conclusions

I love a good ghost story, even when it’s improbable. In this case, I also wish it’d been a little less predictable. But McMahon’s characters pulled me in and wouldn’t let go until the story was resolved.

Sara goes to pieces in front of our eyes. The way McMahon describes her grief is palpable and painful. In that sense, the story is realistic. The plot twists in this timeline were pretty strong, but also strongly foreshadowed. So pay attention, and you may figure out what’s coming next.

I thought Ruthie was terrific. She’s everything I wish for in a late teens character—smart as a whip, but still not quite secure in her intelligence and perception. I also liked the supporting characters in this timeline, although one seemed less integrated and necessary than the others.

McMahon throws just enough supporting characters into each timeline. They allow her to have options for surprises, without being too extraneous. I also like her writing style. It’s a good balance between historical and contemporary. All in all, this was a strong story and a fun wintry read.

p.s. Yes, I covered my copy in plastic wrap and put it in the snow for the picture. #crazythingsilldoforapicture