The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Some families are big. Some families are small. Some families are normal and some families are dysfunctional. My own very small family puts the fun in dysfunctional. Would you have expected anything less? Growing up, I always wanted sisters. Naturally, when I was ten, I got a brother. We tortured each other. He stabbed me*. I tied him to a chair. He made me watch Rugrats (pure torture). I goaded him into cliff jumping. Now that we’re older, we get along quite well now (read: we’re pretty much the same). He forced me to read World War Z. I forced him to read Zone One. He strongly suggested reading Game of Thrones, for which I haven’t thanked him yet, but should. I insisted he read American Gods, for which I got a vague “yeah, I just read the part where the guy gets…swallowed”. In short, despite the fact he’s still in college, he’s one of my favorite people and I’d do anything many things for him.

The Winter People

Familial devotion is one of the primary themes in Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People. The eerie novel tells the story of the nineteenth century Shea family, who lived in rural West Hall, Vermont in an isolated farmhouse. In present day, Ruthie, her sister, and her mother live in the same farmhouse. The two families are connected, but is the extent of that connection Sara’s lost diary or does it run deeper than that? One day, Sara’s daughter mysteriously disappears into the surrounding woods. Her body is eventually found at the bottom of the well. In the present day, Ruthie’s mother Alice disappears. Ruthie and her sister Fawn begin a panicked search for their missing mother. What they uncover along the way is disturbing, thrilling, and haunting.

The Winter People** is a novel about love, loss, and obligation. If you lost your daughter, your husband, or your sibling, what would you do for one more week with them? Nothing is quite as it seems in the idyllic winter wonderland of Vermont. The dead walk the earth, little girls and their dolls have their own secret language, and the town’s residents disappear with alarming frequency. McMahon’s atmospheric tale, reminiscent of Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, is part-zombie tale, part-family saga, and completely enthralling (though not wholly compelling). Every once in a while I need a book that is less of an experience and more entertaining – this was that book for me. It really is a great book for a cold and dreary day. 4/5.

Are you close with your siblings (or family in general)? Or, better yet, did you terrorize each other when you were younger?

Heart Shaped Cinnamon Buns

Ruthie woke up to the familiar and comforting sounds of her mother making breakfast downstairs. There was the smell of coffee, bacon, and cinnamon rolls.

You may need something comforting after this one. Serve with cinnamon rolls (I’m not fond of cinnamon rolls, so I haven’t tried this recipe). Heart-shaped, of course…

*I will never, ever let him live that down. I still tell that story simply to embarrass him.
**I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

21 thoughts on “The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

  1. I find these books that much harder to read since becoming a mother, it is terrifying to even imagine such a scenario, for a mother to lose a child, even for 10 minutes! 🙂

    Difficult to be close to family when we live half a world away and that perhaps makes the relationship with my own children that much closer, because they are the only close familial connection in proximity.


    1. It’s terrifying to even think about!

      I live quite far away from most of my family. It’s strange to know what’s going on in their lives via FB/Twitter/etc without actually seeing or talking to them.


  2. I have this book on hold at the library, so it is nice to hear that it’s going to be good!

    I am one of 6 kids and we are all close now, although there were a few big dramas growing up. Usually they didn’t involve me, except as either a spectator or a peacemaker. (Except for that time my sister and I tried to strangle each other over a pair of pants.)


    1. I liked it, I don’t think it will be a favorite, but it’s solid.

      I’m so jealous! Because my family’s so small, I always wanted to be part of a big one. I never cared for Pride and Prejudice, but being one of five daughters always sounded amazing.


  3. I have this book on my kindle and keep reading all of these great reviews! I know I need to push it up my reading list.

    My sister and I fought like cat and dog when we were younger (she is 3 years younger than me), we actually physically fought! As we grew older (and matured), we realized how much we are alike and how much we can be there for the other one. Now there are over 3,000 miles between us (the Atlantic Ocean) and even though we don’t talk often, we constantly text each other and know we can confide in each other. It sometimes takes both time and distance to realize what you have (or don’t have).


    1. Embarrassingly enough, I physically fought with my brother too. You should never engage someone 10 years younger than you.

      I always wanted a sister for just that reason, though it’s nice to talk to my brother too – there are just some things that can never come up.


  4. With every review of this book I read, it sounds creepier and creepier. I may have to wait and see if the mood strikes to read it. I don’t do these topics well in movies at all, but sometimes books are okay. Just depends. You know that movie where the two little girls disappear and Hugh Jackman kidnaps the supposed kidnapper? That preview drove me so nuts, I looked up a synopsis of the movie so I could know how it ended and keep the preview from haunting me. How’s that for crazy? Lol


    1. It is pretty creepy, but I didn’t think it crossed the threshold into scary.

      You’re not too crazy because I do something similar. I rarely watch scary movies. The last one I tried to watch (because one of my favorite actresses was in it) I had to turn off after 45 minutes – it disturbed me too much!


  5. I am so, so tempted to go order this one right now. And then read it immediately upon arrival. I’ve heard so many good things and would love a great, creepy little novel in the back half of winter.


  6. My brother and I get along great now, but growing up together was tough. I mostly hated how I always let him drag me down to his level. He’s five years younger than me, so when I was a 13-year-old fighting with an 8-year-old, I inevitably started acting like an 8-year-old myself. Or when I was a senior in high school, he’d have me acting like I was 12. And of course that just made me madder.

    But once I went off to college and we weren’t living together… along with the fact that the years I was in college were the years he was actually turning from an annoying kid into a real person… everything suddenly got much better.


    1. Yeah, I had something similar with the ten year gap. Because really, how can a 14 year old fight with a 4 year old, but we did it. I think things started to normalize around ages 15/25 and have been pretty good since then.


  7. I have three younger siblings, one of which is close to me in age, and the other two seven and eight years younger than me. I get along MUCH better with the younger ones, both now and back when we all lived at home. We do sort of go through cycles, though, in which two of us will be closer and then we’ll switch off a few months or years later with another one.


  8. I have not read American Gods. I’m not sure I want to know what that statement is all about. lol

    I was really undecided about this one. I read another book by this author and loved it but it had an extremely strange ending and I keep debating whether or not to give her another shot. But, first impressions and all that. This one sounds reminiscent of Snowblind which I read recently.

    I wanted a little sister so bad too. I got a brother when I was 9. I have vivid memories of pissing him off so badly, he couldn’t have been more than 4 years old, he was standing in the middle of the front lawn and he screams at the top of his lungs, “You.. You.. YOU FUCKER.” Another time we were wrestling on the bed and he fell off and broke his leg. He got me back a few years later by coming up behind me with a baseball bat and hitting me. I fell onto my knee so hard I dislocated my kneecap. Suffice it to say, we didn’t get along. lol


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