review of “blackberry winter” by sarah jio

Happy Friday, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I am *so* excited for the weekend! I’m getting together with some friends for dinner Saturday, and Sunday afternoon a group of us are going to see Circus Oz  at Purdue. I’m also just looking forward to sleeping in and getting some rest. We’ve been having a long string of gray, gloomy days and it’s been a little more of an effort to keep myself cheerful this week — I think the winter blahs are trying to settle in! But I am resisting … perhaps I’ll make some more peanut-butter cup brownies or chocolate-chip cookies this weekend to build up my defenses! 🙂

One highlight of my week was reading this month’s PB Fingers Book Club pick, Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio.

sarah jio

Here’s a brief synopsis: the book alternates between two storylines that gradually merge as the book progresses. The first takes place in Seattle in the midst of the Great Depression, when single mother Vera Ray is forced to leave her treasured 3-year-old son Daniel home alone one night while she goes to work. In the morning, she leaves work to a city blanketed by a freak May snow, termed a “Blackberry Winter.” When she arrives home, her small apartment is empty. Her son has disappeared.

The second storyline takes place during another Blackberry Winter in Seattle in 2010; it centers around reporter Claire Aldridge who is assigned to write a story about the phenomenon. She recently suffered a loss of her own and in the face of her devastating grief, she is growing further and further apart from her husband. Claire becomes obsessed with the story of Daniel’s long-ago disappearance and trying to find out what happened that long-ago Blackberry Winter. Cue the dramatic music!

I was completely swept into the mystery of this story and snuck in bits of reading time whenever I could this week. I just finished it last night and the ending was so sweet and satisfying.

Sarah Jio’s writing style is lyrical and lovely. I have only been to Seattle once, more than a decade ago on a family vacation, so my memory of the city is not too clear. But Sarah describes the city so vividly — both in the present and back in the 1930s — that I felt like I returned there every time I opened this book. It was neat to “go back in time” in Vera’s storyline, and I thought the themes of wealth vs. poverty and greed vs. generosity rang very true to the world today. {Yet another book that confirmed my passion for my #yearofkindness challenge!}

A main theme of this book is motherhood, and I thought of Mr. Jude a LOT while reading. I treasure him beyond words and I can’t imagine not being able to see him, cuddle him, and watch him grow. Mike and I miss him so much between visits, but I am grateful we at least get to see him every month. It was viscerally painful reading about Vera losing her son Daniel in Blackberry Winter — Sarah Jio writes very vivid, real, compelling characters who seem like real people, and my heart just broke for Vera. Her pain is so real. In the book, both Vera and Claire’s lives change in an instant. This book will make you grateful for not just the children you love, but all the loved ones in your life — it will make you want to hold them close, just a little longer and tighter than usual. And of course always, always tell them you love them!

This is a moving and wonderful read that will warm your heart even on the coldest winter day. 🙂

Happy weekend!

October Book Club: “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher

One of my favorite bloggers, Julie of Peanut Butter Fingers, hosts a book club every month through her blog. I love to read and thought it might be a neat way to get introduced to new books and authors and do some “fun reading” outside of the reading I’m assigned through school. I’ll be following along with the book club selections over at Peanut Butter Fingers and then posting my review/reflections/comments about the book on here at the beginning of each new month.

October’s Book Club pick was Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I’d heard a lot of buzz about this book but I hadn’t read it yet, and I was intrigued immediately when I picked it up and read the back cover:

“You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret … is to press play.”

The book is written from the perspective of Clay Jensen, a high school senior who receives a package in the mail with no return address. Inside the package is a series of tapes — thirteen sides in all — containing the recorded testimony of Hannah Baker, a girl from Clay’s school who had committed suicide just a few short weeks before. Clay had nursed a crush on Hannah for years, but hadn’t summoned the courage to act on his feelings {other than one confusing night right before Hannah died} and is filled with regret about the way things turned out. He is both curious and repulsed by the tapes. He wants to hear what Hannah has to say, but is also filled with frustration and sadness to hear the pain in her voice.

Something that really impressed me about this book was the way Asher interweaves Hannah’s voice and memories in the tapes with Clay’s narrative and thoughts in the present line of action. Their voices/perspectives interweave seamlessly and beautifully, in a way that reminded me of a musical duet, steadily increasing the tension more and more until the inevitable, and yet also surprising, conclusion. Asher writes with honesty, vividness, and unflinching realism — and for a novel dealing with suicide, Thirteen Reasons Why was surprisingly hopeful. I was very moved while reading this book, and particularly at the end. I don’t usually cry while reading, but the tears came when I was turning the final pages of this novel.

To me, some of the most poignant moments in the novel were when Clay laments, Why didn’t you talk to me, Hannah? I would have listened. This book made me think of the myriad of ways, both large and small, that peoples’ lives are intertwined. We have no idea how big of an impact we have on those around us. The smallest gesture — a smile, a kind word, a “hello” in the halls — can be just the thing to give someone else hope or happiness or turn their life around.

Have any of you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


My rating: 5 out of 5 stars