A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year
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.
Jennifer McMahon is the author of "Dismantled", the "New
Jennifer McMahon is the author of "Dismantled", the "New York Times" bestseller "Island of Lost Girls", and the brea York Times" bestseller "Island of Lost Girls", and the breakout debut novel "Promise Not to Tell". She lives in Vermontkout debut novel "Promise Not to Tell". She lives in Vermont with her partner, Drea, and their daughter, Zella. with her partner, Drea, and their daughter, Zella.
"One of the year's most chilling novels. She melds the mystery genre with the supernatural for a psychological thriller that is as scary as it is enthralling." --The Miami Herald "Jennifer McMahon is a writer of exceptional talent, and The Winter People is a hypnotic, gripping and deeply moving thriller. With her beautifully drawn characters and complex, layered, and suspenseful story, McMahon has woven a dream from which I didn't want to wake--and couldn't have even if I wanted to." --Lisa Unger, author of In the Blood
"Crisp, mysterious and scary.... The Winter People has a consistently eerie atmosphere, and some of its darker supernatural flights are reminiscent of Stephen King." --USA Today
"I don't believe in ghosts. At least that's what I kept telling myself as I read The Winter People. I also don't need to sleep with the lights on. I told myself that, too. But I was whistling past a graveyard--or, in this case--past a Vermont landscape that is authentic and recognizable and still altogether chilling. The Winter People is terrifying--everything you could want in a classic ghost story." --Chris Bohjalian, author of The Light in the Ruins
"A fascinatingly creepy tale. The historical foundation and the modern mystery blend together seamlessly, making the reader eager to find out the secrets Sara Harrison Shea might have known, while the exploration of mother-daughter love and loss makes both Sara's and Ruthie's narratives irresistible. Not a book to be read late at night, or in a creaky old house, The Winter People is a literary thriller to savor." --Shelf Awareness
"A ghost story that is ... all too human.... A hauntingly beautiful read." --Oprah.com
"In an edge-of-your-seat scary ghost story, Jennifer McMahon's The Winter People yanks you from one page to the next by expertly weaving the past and present. I will never look at the woods behind my home in the same way again!" --Heather Gudenkauf, author of The Weight of Silence
"A deliciously terrifying glimpse into a ghostly world that will haunt you long after you've finished the last page. Jennifer McMahon knows how to conjure your darkest fears and nightmares, while entertaining you with a clever, twisty plot that winds around and around, pulling you deep into the forbidden, secret world of The Winter People." --Chevy Stevens, author of Always Watching
"This is not a book that will sit unread on anyone's bedside table for very long. Open the first few pages and you are swept into a swift, dark current of unfolding events that will hold you enthralled. Much more than a spooky mystery of murder and mayhem, 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
"One of the year's most chilling novels. She melds the mystery genre with the supernatural for a psychological thriller that is as scary as it is enthralling." -- The Miami Herald "Jennifer McMahon is a writer of exceptional talent, and
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.
Visitors from the Other Side The Secret Diary of Sara Harrison Shea January 29, 1908 The first time I saw a sleeper, I was nine years old. It was the spring before Papa sent Auntie away--before we lost my brother, Jacob. My sister, Constance, had married the fall before and moved to Graniteville. I was up exploring in the woods, near the Devil''s Hand, where Papa had forbidden us to play. The trees were leafing out, making a lush green canopy overhead. The sun had warmed the soil, giving the damp woods a rich, loamy smell. Here and there beneath the beech, sugar maple, and birch trees were spring flowers: trilliums, trout lilies, and my favorite, jack-in-the-pulpit, a funny little flower with a secret: if you lift the striped hood, you''ll find the preacher underneath. Auntie had shown me this, and taught me that you could dig up the tubers and cook them like turnips. I had just found one and was pulling back the hood, looking for the tiny figure underneath, when I heard footsteps, slow and steady, moving my way. Heavy feet dragging through the dry leaves, stumbling on roots. I wanted to run, but froze with panic, having squatted down low behind a rock just as a figure moved into the clearing. I recognized her at once--Hester Jameson. She''d died two weeks before from typhoid fever. I had attended her funeral with Papa and Jacob, seen her laid to rest in the cemetery behind the church up by Cranberry Meadow. Everyone from school was there, all in Sunday best. Hester''s father, Erwin, ran Jameson''s Tack and Feed Shop. He wore a black coat with frayed sleeves, and his nose was red and running. Beside him stood his wife, Cora Jameson, a heavyset woman who had a seamstress shop in town. Mrs. Jameson sobbed into a lace handkerchief, her whole body heaving and trembling. I had been to funerals before, but never for someone my own age. Usually it was the very old or the very young. I couldn''t take my eyes off the casket, just the right size for a girl like me. I stared at the plain wooden box until I grew dizzy, wondering what it might feel like to be laid out inside. Papa must have noticed, because he took my hand and gave it a squeeze, pulled me a little closer to him. Reverend Ayers, a young man then, said Hester was with the angels. Our old preacher, Reverend Phelps, was stooped over, half deaf, and none of what he said made any sense--it was all frightening metaphors about sin and salvation. But when Reverend Ayers with his sparkling blue eyes spoke, it felt as if he said each word right to me. "I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." For the first time, I understood the word of God, because Reverend Ayers spoke it. His voice, all the girls said, could soothe the Devil himself. A red-winged blackbird cried out conk-a-reee from a nearby hazel bush. He puffed up his red shoulders and sang over and over, as loud as he could, his call almost hypnotic; even Reverend Ayers paused to look. Mrs. Jameson dropped to her knees, keening. Mr. Jameson tried to pull her up, but did not have the strength. I stood right beside Papa, clutching his hand, as dirt was shoveled down on the coffin of poor Hester Jameson. Hester had a crooked front tooth, but a beautifully delicate face. She had been the best in our class at arithmetic. Once, for my birthday, she gave me a note with a flower pressed inside. A violet it was, dried out and perfectly preserved. May your day be as special as you are, she''d written in perfect cursive. I tucked it into my Bible, where it stayed for years, until it either disintegrated or fell out, I cannot recall. Now, two weeks after her very own funeral, Hester''s sleeper caught sight of me there in the woods, crouching behind the rock. I shall never forget the look in her eyes--the frightened half-recognition of someone waking from a horrible dream. I had heard about sleepers; there was even a game we played in the schoolyard in which one child would be laid out dead in a circle of violets and forget-me-nots. Then someone would lean down and whisper magic words in the dead girl''s ear, and she would rise and chase all the other children. The first one she caught would be the next to die. I think I may have even played this game once with Hester Jameson. I had heard whispers, rumors of sleepers called back from the land of the dead by grieving husbands and wives, but was certain they only existed in the stories old women liked to tell each other while they folded laundry or stitched stockings--something to pass the time, and to make any eavesdropping children hurry home before dark. I had been sure, up until then, that God in his infinite wisdom would not have allowed such an abomination. Hester and I were not ten feet apart. Her blue dress was filthy and torn, her corn-silk hair in tangles. She gave off the musty smell of damp earth, but there was something else behind it, an acrid, greasy, burnt odor, similar to what you smell when you blow out a tallow candle. Our eyes met, and I yearned to speak, to say her name, but could only manage a strangled-sounding Hss. Hester ran off into the woods like a startled rabbit. I stayed frozen, clinging pathetically to my rock like a bit of lichen. From down the path leading to the Devil''s Hand came another figure, running, calling Hester''s name. It was her mother, Cora Jameson. She stopped when she saw me, face flushed and frantic. She was breathing hard and had scratches on her face and arms, pieces of dry leaves and twigs tangled in her hair. "Tell no one," she said. "But why?" I asked, stepping out from behind the rock. She looked right at me--through me, almost, as if I were a pane of dirty window glass. "Someday, Sara," she said, "maybe you''ll love someone enough to understand." Then she ran off into the woods, following her daughter. I told Auntie about it later. "Is it really possible?" I asked. "To bring someone back like that?" We were down by the river, picking fiddleheads, filling Auntie''s basket with the curled fern tops, as we did each spring. Then we''d bring them home and make a creamy soup stuffed full of wild greens and herbs that Auntie had gathered along the way. We were also there to check the traps--Auntie had caught a beaver just two days before and was hoping for another. Beaver pelts were a rarity and brought a high price. They were once nearly as common as squirrels'', Auntie said, but trappers had taken all except a handful. Buckshot was with us, nosing the ground, ears attentive to every little sound. I never knew if he was all wolf, or only part. Auntie had found him as a pup, when he''d fallen into one of her pit traps after being all shot up by someone. She''d carried him home, pulled the buckshot pellets out of him, stitched him up, and nursed him back to health. He''d been by her side ever since. "He was lucky you found him," I said after hearing the story. "Luck had nothing to do with it," Auntie told me. "He and I were meant for one another." I never saw such devotion in a dog--or any animal, for that matter. His wounds had healed, but the buckshot left him blind in his right eye, which was milky white. His ghost eye, Auntie called it. "He came so close to death, he''s got one eye back there still," she explained. I loved Buckshot, but I hated that milky-white moon that seemed to see everything and nothing all at once. Auntie was not related to me by blood, but she cared for me, raised me after my own mother died giving birth to me. I had no memory of my mother--the only proofs of her existence were my parents'' wedding photograph, the quilt she''d sewn that I slept under every night, and the stories my older brother and sister told. My brother claimed I had my mother''s laugh. My sister said that my mother had been the best dancer in the county, that she was the envy of all the other girls. Auntie''s people came from up north, in Quebec. Her father had been a trapper; her mother, an Indian woman. Auntie carried a hunting knife, and wore a long deerskin coat decorated with bright beads and porcupine quills. She spoke French, and sang songs in a language I never did recognize. She wore a ring carved from yellowed bone on her right pointer finger. "What does it say?" I asked once, touching the strange letters and symbols on its surface. "That life is a circle," she answered. People in town were frightened of Auntie, but their fear did not keep them away from her door. They followed the well-worn path to her cabin in the woods out behind the Devil''s Hand, carrying coins, honey, whiskey--whatever they had to trade for her remedies. Auntie had drops for colic, tea for fever, even a little blue bottle that she swore contained a potion so powerful that with one drop the object of your heart''s desire would be yours. I knew better than to doubt her. There were other things I knew about Auntie, too. I''d seen her sneak out of Papa''s bedroom in the early morning, heard the sounds that came from behind his locked door when she visited him there. I also knew better than to cross her. She had a fiery temper and little patience with people who did not see things her way. If people refused to pay her for her services, she''d call on them, sprinkle their homes with black powder pulled from one of her leather pouches, and speak a strange incantation. Terrible things wou
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