Synopses & Reviews
West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
“Everything you could want in a classic ghost story.” Chris Bohjalian, author of The Light in the Ruins
“One of the year’s most chilling novels....Enthralling.” The Miami Herald
“Crisp, mysterious and scary....Reminiscent of Stephen King.” USA Today
“The Winter People is hypnotic, gripping and deeply moving....A dream from which I didn't want to wake.” Lisa Unger, author of In the Blood
“McMahon is a scrupulous writer, nicely attentive to the nuances of character and landscape....The mournful voice of Sara Shea lingers in the memory, and McMahon, wisely, gives her the last word.” The New York Times Book Review
“The Winter People blends the anguish of loss and the yearning for connection into one great story, well told.” Kate Alcott, author of The Dressmaker
“McMahon gives readers just what they want: can’t-put-it-down, stay-up-until-dawn reading....[The Winter People] is also a poignant reminder of what grief can drive humans to do.” BookPage
About the Author
Jennifer McMahon is the author of six novels, including the New York Times bestsellers Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell. She graduated from Goddard College and studied poetry in the MFA Writing Program at Vermont College. She currently lives with her partner and daughter in Montpelier, Vermont.
Reading Group Guide
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People
. We hope they will enrich your experience of this mesmerizing novel.
1. At the heart of the novel is the longing to be reunited with a loved one who has died. How would you respond to this possibility, even if you could only see your beloved for one week? What risks would you take to take to experience such a reunion?
2. What was it like to read Sara’s diary, alternating with scenes from other time periods? Did Sara’s words change your vision of the spirit world? Did her bond with Gertie remind you of your own experience with a mother’s love?
3. When Alice and her family inhabit Sara’s house and her land, how does that environment transform them? Do you believe that the history of a locale can influence your present-day experiences there?
4. Ruthie and Fawn have been raised to question authority and to live a non-materialistic life. What benefits and challenges does their upbringing give them when their mother goes missing? Ultimately, what did Alice try to teach her daughters about becoming fulfilled women?
5. Reread the excerpt from Amelia’s introduction on the book’s first page. How do Amelia and the other townspeople react to their legacies? Why did Reverend Ayers feel so threatened by Auntie?
6. Martin cherishes Sara and continually strives to please her. Does she love him in equal measure, or does her ancestry make it too difficult for an outsider to fully share a life with her?
7. How was Sara affected by her history with her siblings, Constance and Jacob? Why did their father easily become dependent on Auntie, while Sara’s mother didn’t trust her?
8. Did Tom and Bridget O’Rourke have ethical motivations? Did Candace? How do the revelations about them affect Ruthie’s sense of self?
9. How did you react to Gertie’s hunger? What is its significance to the maternal women who must care for her?
10. Discuss Katherine and Gary’s love for each other. How does their marriage compare to the others presented in the book? How do Katherine’s art and Gary’s photography give them a unique perspective on life and memory? What does their story indicate about whether a sleeper should be awakened?
11. Consider the rules for waking a sleeper. What do the words and the ingredients represent in terms of the cycles of life and the nature of death?
12. What were your theories about the many unsolved deaths in West Hall? Did your instincts prove to be correct when the truth about the Devil’s Hand was revealed?
13. In The Winter People and previous novels by Jennifer McMahon that you have enjoyed, how is the author able to make surreal situations seem highly realistic? What role do fear and courage play in each of her books?