Tag Archives: Child Abduction

WHEN THE STARS GO DARK

“Trust issues, attachment trouble, identity problems, feelings of emptiness, isolation, alienation, and despair—cracks in the soul that can’t be mended. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. How anyone with a hole inside them will search on and on, sometimes all their lives, for ways to fill it. Paula McLain, When the Stars Go Dark

San Francisco Detective Anna Hart  knows about tragedy. As a specialist in finding missing persons, she has seen it written on the faces of desperate families for years.  But now, she has personally seen how fast tragedy can rip apart a marriage and destroy one’s center of gravity. The scars of a lonely and isolated childhood in the foster care system have left her bereft of the ability to process her grief. The reader feels her pain but is left in the dark about the facts of the recent cause until nearly the end of the book.

Anna does what many folks do when troubled. They return to a childhood sanctuary where the world seemed safe. She needs a timeout from her grief and to process what caused the emotional wreckage of her splintered marriage. For Anna, that place is Mendocino, California where her last and most caring foster father introduced her to the Mendocino National Forest. A wilderness where she learned survival skills in a world of natural beauty.  A place of escape and solace. A place to think free of the swirl of daily life.

Upon reaching Mendocino, Anna doesn’t find the peace that Dorothy found returning to Kansas and Auntie Em. Your troubles travel with you, old troubles lay waiting for your return, and new ones greet you. She’s learned several of her old high school friends still live in the area. As a matter of fact, one of them, is now the sheriff.

When Anna learns a local teenager, Cameron, is missing, she can’t stop herself from becoming involved in the search.  Diving headlong into the new case, memories of the murder of a childhood friend surface. In an age before the internet and wide-spread cell phone coverage, the investigative team learns of other missing girls.

Was Cameron the victim of a serial killer or an isolated case? Anna’s experiences in locating missing children and her methodology of examining what dynamic made each victim a target clashes with the sheriff’s concept of on the ground crime solving.

The tempo of the plot ricochets through Anna’s past and her present day conflicts. It gets messy and hard to follow at times, creating the author’s purpose of identifying how one’s past can influence one’s present and future. Things seen in retrospect can influence the future for the better.

I had a difficult time giving this book a four star rating at first. Something seemed odd about Anna and the author’s choice to spend so much time in Anna’s childhood and her life in foster care. After reading the author’s notes at the back of the book, I had a better understanding of the mental confusion. Thus, I deliberately chose the opening quote in my review from When the Stars Go Dark.

It could have appeared in the author’s 2003 memoir growing up as an abused foster child, Like Family: Growing Up In Other People’s Houses. I would advise readers to better understand how the author inserted her parts of her personal story into the novel to read the author’s note in the back of the book before start When the Stars Go Dark. Better yet, read the very well written memoir, Like Family to better understand life trapped in a foster care environment.

“Trust issues, attachment trouble, identity problems, feelings of emptiness, isolation, alienation, and despair—cracks in the soul that can’t be mended. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. How anyone with a hole inside them will search on and on, sometimes all their lives, for ways to fill it. Paula McLain, When the Stars Go Dark

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WINTER SISTERS: a novel

 

WINTER SISTERS

        Robin Oliverira

Child after child was scooped into welcoming arms, but no one claimed Emma and Claire. Stunned by the cold, the two girls (7 and 10 years old) shivered on the iceberg of snow blown up against the school steps until Emma took hold of Claire’s hand and forged a mountain goat path over frozen drifts in the direction of their home.

Penguin | Feb 2018
Hardcover: 368 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / 19th Century Women’s Rights
ARC e-book from Edelweiss

In Winter Sisters, Dr. Mary Sutter, first appearing in My Name is Mary Sutter, returns and is now married to her Civil War colleague, Dr. William Stipp.

BLOGGER’S NOTE:

The catastrophic 1879 blizzard that ravages the lives and landscape of the American Northeast in the opening chapters of  Winter Sisters is based on the Great Blizzard of ’88

On this day in 1888, one of the worst blizzards in American history kills more than 400 people and dumps as much as 55 inches of snow in some areas. . .

On March 10, 1888 temperatures in the Northeast hovered in the mid-50s. But on March 11, cold Arctic air from Canada collided with Gulf air from the south and temperatures plunged. Rain turned to snow and winds reached hurricane-strength levels. By midnight on March 11, gusts were recorded at 85 miles. . .

★★★★☆

REVIEW

It is early March of 1879 in Albany, New York and 13 years after the Civil War. The Reconstruction period saw many new “families” formed from the remnants of the carnage; neighbors, distant cousins, siblings and orphans found comfort and solace creating a whole from their broken individual pieces. One such post-war family includes Drs. Mary (Sutter) and William Stipp and longtime family friends Bonnie and David O’Donnell along with their two beautiful young daughters, Claire (7) and Emma (10).

The Albany weather is balmy for early March and the O’Donnells head out for the day dressed for early Spring; Bonnie to her millinery shop, David to the lumber yard and the girls to school.

By mid-morning, snow flurries suddenly appear. By mid-afternoon a catastrophic blizzard cripples the town. Temperatures plummet. Winds rage. Snow, measuring in feet not inches, races sideways striking windows and any unfortunate being outside like silver bullets. Visibility zero.

Claire and Emma O’Donnell are trapped, along with their classmates, in the Van Zandt Grammar School; their parents unable to retrieve them. As the storm finally abates, desperate parents race to the school to bring their children home. No one notices the two little girls amid the sky-high drifts left waiting for their parents in the bitter cold.

The O’Donnell family has disappeared. Bonnie’s body is found in a snow drift outside her millinery shop. David O’Donnell’s frozen body is found in the street near home. Claire and Emma are never found.

Like many other devastated families, Mary Sutter Stipp begins a desperate search for the girls; her now famous take-no-prisoners style testing the ire and patience of the male dominate community. Mary’s life’s exposes the struggles of women in general, and poor women in particular to survive and thrive in a patriarchal society. As she turns over every leaf in her search, she exposes life’s underbelly.

With the warmer weather returning, the Hudson River ice breaks-up and the melted snows from the blizzard cause record setting flooding. In the midst of this new crisis, the girls are found – alive, alone in the freezing waters, and traumatized. As the mysterious whereabouts of the girls is unraveled, the story becomes painful and unspeakable. Yet, the story doesn’t lose its sense of hope as the extended family surrounds the girls with love and patience allowing them to regain a brighter future.

There are some very positive and touching moments that seem especially necessary for the little girls and for the recovery of the other extended family members suffering their own life’s trials.

The story is painfully slow when the blizzard overshadows the lives of the characters but picks up steam when the girls are discovered and diabolical secrets are exposed. I found myself cheering at justice, albeit poorly rendered, when it arrives.

As much as society would like to think that women’s rights and roles have improved over the years, there’s a contemporary awareness that achievements toward equity are balanced on a knife’s edge.

Recommend reading. Many timely themes for book club discussions. The book should be as popular as My Name is Mary Sutter.

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