Though this historical suspense novel is set in 1879, in many ways it seems relevant to today’s #Me Too movement. I was dumbfounded to learn that the age of consent for females in New York State was ten years old at that time. Also eye-opening was how poorly the medical establishment treated Dr. Mary Stipp—a female surgeon and one of the novel’s main characters—by taking away her hospital privileges. Her “crime”? She dared to treat prostitutes.
Set in Albany, New York, WINTER SISTERS opens with a colossal blizzard that brings the city to its knees. Right before the snow begins to fall, Claire and Emma O’Donnell, ages seven and ten, are delivered to school by their loving parents as usual. But days later, it seems the two sisters have disappeared. And their parents have died in the blizzard.
Dr. Stipp and her husband, close family friends of the O’Donnells, begin their search for the orphaned girls. Checking hospitals, morgues, churches and orphanages to no avail, finally one of Dr. Stipp’s patients suggests she check the brothels. No, that’s not the exact answer, but the idea that many men, even those among Albany’s wealthiest, have an appetite for young girls becomes central to the story.
Sensational headlines in the local papers label the missing girls as the “Winter Sisters.” Robin Oliveira does a fine job of bringing Claire and Emily to life, as well as a bevy of Stipp family household members who care deeply for the girls. Weather continues to be a factor when melting snows bring flooding to Albany.
And that’s about all I want to say about the plot, for it would be too easy get into spoiler territory. Figuring out what exactly happened to the girls is a long process, taking readers into the lives of the city’s finest and worst citizens.
For some reason, books about missing children always grab my interest. The author’s flair for historical detail and local color deepened my involvement with that basic plot premise. I dare anyone to read Winter Sisters and not want to discuss women’s rights with others—both how far we’ve come and yet, how much further we still have to go.
Keddy Ann Outlaw
A librarian for nearly 30 years, Keddy is also a veteran reviewer for Library Journal. Formerly an art major, she’s now busy making mixed media collages, prints and assemblages, and posting as “The Lone Star Librarian” on her website, Speed of Light.