Winter Sister (Collins)

The Winter Sister 
Megan Collins, 2019
Atria Books
336 pp.

 In this spellbinding and suspenseful debut, a young woman haunted by the past returns home to care for her ailing mother and begins to dig deeper into her sister’s unsolved murder.

Sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s sister Persephone never came home.

Out too late with the boyfriend she was forbidden to see, Persephone was missing for three days before her body was found—and years later, her murder remains unsolved.

In the present day, Sylvie returns home to care for her estranged mother, Annie, as she undergoes treatment for cancer. Prone to unexplained "Dark Days" even before Persephone’s death, Annie’s once-close bond with Sylvie dissolved in the weeks after their loss, making for an uncomfortable reunion all these years later.

Worse, Persephone’s former boyfriend, Ben, is now a nurse at the cancer center where Annie is being treated. Sylvie’s always believed Ben was responsible for the murder—but she carries her own guilt about that night, guilt that traps her in the past while the world goes on around her.

As she navigates the complicated relationship with her mother, Sylvie begins to uncover the secrets that fill their house—and what really happened the night Persephone died. As it turns out, the truth will set you free, once you can bear to look at it.

The Winter Sister is a mesmerizing portrayal of the complex bond between sisters, between mothers and daughters alike, and forces us to ask ourselves—how well do we know the people we love most? (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1984 (?)
Raised—Bolton, Connecticut, USA
Education—B.A., Wheaton College, Massachusetts; M.F.A., Boston University
Currently—lives in Manchester, Connecticut

Megan Collins grew up in Bolton, Connecticut. She received her BA in English and Creative Writing from Wheaton College in Massachusetts and her MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University. She has taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and Central Connecticut State University, and she is the managing editor of 3Elements Review.

A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in many print and online journals, including Off the Coast, Spillway, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Rattle. She lives in Manchester, Connecticut, and The Winter Sister is her first novel. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
I love a good family-driven suspense novel, and this one doesn't disappoint.

[A] tepid debut…. This psychological thriller starts strong, but the story veers off along tired plot lines, leaving readers as adrift as the characters.
Publishers Weekly

[D]ark, tense, and completely absorbing.… While full of hand-clenching suspense, the novel’s real strength comes from its study of relationships.… Gripping to the last page,… the desperation in the connections among the characters… will stay with readers.

The secrets [Sylvie] uncovers… will shatter every memory she holds dear about her sister, her mother, and even the man she believes killed Persephone. A bewitching thriller with surprises detonating in nearly every chapter.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The title of Megan Collins’s debut novel is The Winter Sister. Which sister do you think the title refers to—Sylvie or Persephone? Why do you think Collins chooses to leave this interpretation open to the reader?

2. Even though Lauren is Sylvie’s best friend, Sylvie reveals that she has lied about the truth of Persephone’s death for the majority of their relationship. How would you feel if you found out that an important person in your life had lied about something like this? Would you try to understand? Feel betrayed? How do you think your relationship with that person would change after the fact?

3. Although Sylvie never forgets about Persephone, she doesn’t actively reinvestigate her sister’s case until after she returns to Spring Hill. Why do you think her homecoming sparks a renewed dedication in solving Persephone’s cold case? Is it returning to Spring Hill itself? Seeing her mother in a weakened state? Make a list of Sylvie’s possible motivations, and share them with your fellow book club members to compare.

4. The majority of the novel takes place sixteen years after Persephone’s death, but the loss still feels fresh for many characters in the novel. Consider the following passage: "I didn’t know that stars don’t last forever. I had no idea that the light we see is just an echo of an old burn, or that, most of the time, it’s the absence of a glow, instead of the glow itself, that goes on and on and on" (p. 45). How is this a metaphor for Persephone? How does her absence continue to affect the lives of Sylvie, Annie, Jill, and Ben? How might things have been different for them had she survived? Do you think that the effects of a loss like this can ever dissipate?

5. Even though she’s been convinced her entire life that Ben was the one who killed Persephone, Sylvie finally decides to hear what he has to say at the end of chapter 11. Why do you think she makes the decision to trust him? How do you think the novel would have progressed if Sylvie had chosen differently?

6. Annie always warned Sylvie about Tommy Dent, so Sylvie is shocked when she learns that her mother and Tommy spent time together after Persephone’s death. Consider Annie’s perspective in this situation. Do you think there was more to her relationship with Tommy than just the pills? Why or why not? Does Annie deserve any sympathy for her "deal" with Tom?

7. "We O’Leary women—we keep our promises to our sisters" (p. 162). In chapter 17, Annie reveals that Jill knew she had a drug problem after Persephone’s death but promised to keep it secret. This echoes a quote from chapter 1: "We’re sisters, Sylvie, Persephone would always say. And that’s sacred. So I know your promise to keep this a secret isn’t just words. It means something to you" (pp. 14–15). Discuss the parallels between Jill and Annie’s relationship and that of Sylvie and Persephone. What role do secrets play in these relationships? How did Jill’s and Sylvie’s choices to keep their sisters’ secrets affect their lives? When is it better to tell a secret than to keep one? Discuss as a group.

8. Sylvie and Annie both had a deep desire to protect Persephone, even though it came at a cost to her. Sylvie locked the window "because I’d loved her, deeply, and I’d wanted to save her from herself" (p. 251), while Annie was "rescuing Persephone from a life in the Underworld" (p. 156). Examine the theme of protecting loved ones throughout the novel. Do you think either Sylvie or Annie actually had the power to protect Persephone? What about Ben? Is it ever really possible to protect someone?

9. Ben eventually reveals to Sylvie the real reason behind Persephone’s bruises. Were you surprised by his explanation? If you were Sylvie, would you forgive him for what he did? Why or why not?

10. Annie keeps perhaps the biggest secret of all in The Winter Sister. Why do you think she ultimately chose not to tell Persephone her father’s identity? Do you think Annie was genuinely naïve about Persephone and Ben’s relationship? Afraid about what might happen were she to tell the truth? Both? Share your thoughts with your book club.

11. Persephone and Annie’s relationship is a tumultuous one at best, but as Annie puts it, "I couldn’t get too close to her just to lose her someday" (p. 271). Did you ever have a "tough love" relationship with anyone as a child? How did it affect your relationship with that person as an adult? What’s your perspective on this relationship now?

12. There are several characters in the novel that could have viably murdered Persephone. Were you surprised when you finally found out the killer’s identity? Why or why not? Share some of the theories you had while reading and explain how those theories might have changed throughout the course of the novel.

13. Ben and Sylvie develop a semiromantic relationship while they work together to find out what happened to Persephone. If you were to revisit them a year from now, do you think they would be together? Why or why not?

14. Tattoos are a recurring motif throughout The Winter Sister. Sylvie paints them on Persephone as a child to hide her bruises and later becomes a tattoo artist as an adult. At the end of the book, Sylvie decides to give up the career, musing, "I no longer needed to watch a needle sink pigment into flesh, no longer needed to punish myself by reenacting what I’d done to Persephone, always seeing her arm instead of the client’s" (p. 311). How was tattooing a punishment for Sylvie, and how does giving it up signify her healing?

15. Paint is another motif that plays an important role in the novel. As Sylvie says of the medium: "Paint is stubborn. It clings instead of chips, and even after more than a decade, it has to be scraped and scraped and scraped" (p. 177). How is this a metaphor for her grief over Persephone? Why do you think she chooses to paint over the constellation on her mother’s living room wall at the end of the novel, rather than try to scrape it off? What is the significance of Sylvie and Annie doing this together?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2020