Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira
Some of you may remember the novel My Name is Mary Sutter as the All Iowa Reads selection for 2015. I’m a huge fan of novels set during the American Civil War, so of course I couldn’t wait to read Oliveira’s latest. You’ll be happy to know that Mary Sutter, now Dr. Mary Stipp, lives in Albany, New York with her husband William, mother Amelia, and niece Elizabeth. It is 1879, and while the Civil War has been over for fourteen years, it still echoes in the everyday lives of Mary and William.
A disastrous blizzard descends on Albany, sending people out into the raging snow with little to no protection. Two sisters, Emma and Claire O’Donnell, are left at school after the blizzard ends, waiting for their parents to pick them up. But their parents never show, and the girls disappear. Close family friends Mary and William report the missing girls to the police, who drag their feet and assume the girls are dead. Mary persists and doesn’t give up hope, even as they bury the girls’ parents, David and Bonnie O’Donnell, victims of the blizzard.
Six weeks later, a spring thaw causes the Hudson River to flood Albany, adding even more death and destruction to the already beleaguered city. Emma and Claire are found, and we discover where they’ve been, and what they’ve gone through. What follows sends the city of Albany into a fierce debate about age of consent (it was ten in 1879), women’s rights to healthcare, prostitution, and the corruption of police by the men who control the wealth and power in Albany.
Each woman in this novel is strong, capable, and continually working to fight the oppression and limited choices of women. Mary is a particular favorite of mine; as a female doctor she is constantly questioned about her skills, even as Albany remembers her contributions to saving solider lives on the battlefields of the Civil War. It’s a very well-written historical novel sure to keep you engaged and turning the pages. You do not have to read My Name is Mary Sutter to read this novel. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, post-Civil War fiction, or novels about strong women, grab it!
--Sue Gerth, Customer Experience and Access Services Coordinator