Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Book Review: "The Winter Sister" by Megan Collins

Life changed completely when Sylvie was 14 years old. Her older sister, Persephone, disappeared one night, after sneaking out to meet her boyfriend, whom her mother forbade her to date. Sylvie kept lots of Persephone's secrets—because that's what sisters do—and she keeps hoping that Persephone will come home. It seems even more unfathomable when Persephone's body is found just a few days later.

Sylvie is wracked with grief and guilt, and she tries to get the police to focus on whom she believes the suspect is. She's unprepared when they really don't share her suspicions, but she's even more unprepared for the depth of her mother's anger and guilt. Her mother takes to violent expressions of grief, and long bouts of drinking, and Sylvie can't handle it any longer, so she leaves town and moves in with her aunt and cousin.

Sixteen years later, Sylvie's aunt summons her home to care for her mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer. The last thing she wants to do is return to the memories of Persephone's murder, especially since the crime was never solved, and her feelings about it, as well as her mother, who changed so drastically after Persephone's death.

"I couldn't pretend that, just by turning thirty, I was old enough now to have outgrown my feelings of motherlessness."

As she tries to negotiate her relationship with her mother and her always-mercurial moods, Sylvie finds it difficult to dwell on anything other than Persephone, especially when she encounters her sister's ex-boyfriend Ben, who now works as a nurse at her mother's cancer center. Sylvie has always believed Ben had something to do with Persephone's death, and tries to convince the police they should still consider him a suspect after all these years, but little by little, she comes to understand that the situation regarding her sister's death was more complicated than she could imagine.

She feels like she owes it to her sister to figure out what happened to her. It may resolve her own feelings of guilt, but at the same time, it could further destroy her mother and their relationship. Sometimes secrets are kept for a reason, and sometimes unearthing them only causes more heartache than good.

The Winter Sister is more of a mystery than a thriller, but along with the whodunit comes a healthy dose of family dysfunction. It's an interesting story about how the simplest of actions can scar us in ways we never realize, and how those scars affect us and our actions for the rest of our lives. It's also a look at how one secret can lead to a tangled web of them, a web that it is often difficult to escape.

This is Megan Collins' debut novel, and its strengths definitely show that she has a terrific future ahead of her. I thought at times the pacing of the book was a little slower than I would have liked, and some of the characters needed a little more complexity. But I thought she showed restraint where she could have taken the book down a very melodramatic path, and I definitely appreciated this.

Maybe reading a book called The Winter Sister made me feel even colder these last few days, but Collins' storytelling was worth the extra blanket!

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