“Sixteen years after my sister’s murder, the case was as cold as her body must have been that night.”
In 2019, Megan Collins graced us with her literary presence when Atria Books published, The Winter Sister.
Collins delievered with a puzzling, spine tingling thriller. Her beautiful use of similes and metaphors produced an emotional mystery full of beautiful language and secrets.
The Winter Sister is a galaxy of symbolism that portrays the love of a sisters’ bond, a broken relationship, and the consumption of guilt. As Sylvie strives to find more information about her sister’s murder, she also unravels more secrets, as she struggles to keep her own guilt at bay.
Collins leaves her readers with anticipation for her next great thriller, Behind the Red Door, set to release August, 2020.
A bit of Plot
Sylvie returns to her hometown to take care of her sick mother, Annie. They have had a rocky relationship and a fallout sixteen years ago. On the night her sister, Persephone didn’t return home, Annie changed and left Sylvie to her own grief when her body was found, three days later.
She is anxious about living with the mother that abandoned her but more importantly going back to the source of the guilt she has been carrying all these years.
Persephone trusted Sylvie with her deepest secret, her forbidden relationship with Ben Emory. She was their for her sister when more secrets started forming and eventually caused Sylvie to make a decision that would lead to her sister’s frozen body.
Sylvie is pushed into the world Persephone once knew, as she struggles with her relationship with her mother. Searching for answers, Sylvie discovers more secrets that ultimately lead to Persephone’s unsolved murder.
The Winter Sister is a creepy drama full of beautiful symbolism. Metaphors and similies are spewed througout with such grace, I felt chills while reading the events of Persephone’s murder.
Collins’ vivid attention to description, makes a thrilling search for the answers behind what happened that night, sixteen years ago. Through the eyes of Sylvie, we see a complicated story about a girl struggling with grief and guilt, giving us emotion and wanting more.
“She’d been dead for days, buried beneath layers of snow, so when someone first touched her– did it feel smooth but glacial, like touching a window in winter?”
The similarities Collins presents between paint and bruises, filled me with pain and relief. We are shown the love Sylvie had for her sister by the willingness she had to do whatever made her sister happy. She would cover the bruises on Persephone’s skin, left by what she knew to be love, with her paints.
Sylvie would receive praise from her mom, Annie. Only seeing the beautiful colors blended together on Persephone’s skin. Never seeing what was underneath the beauty. Never seeing the pain. The slashes of paint that stained Sylvie’s conscience.
“When Persephone showered each day, she was careful to keep her concealed bruises away from the water. When I showered, I scrubbed and scrubbed.”
The Character Development
When Sylvie was young, painting her sister felt liek a way of showing her love. She wanted to be the one Persephone trusted her secrets with. She had no problem leaving the bedroom window cracked to let her sister sneak back in after visiting with her Romeo, Ben. Allowing Persephone to play Juliet, she was able to show her love and made herself believe that the bruises were just a part of the forbidden romance her sister wanted.
You see that as Sylvie grows wiser, she starts to question the secret she was entrusted with. She confronts her sister; she doesn’t want to paint over her bruises anymore. More secrets lead her to continuing to paint over every last bruise on Persephone’s body. You see the confrontation between what Sylvie believes is right and what she is doing for her sister.
“I believed that you could love someone so much, and still, you could hurt them. I believed that a heart could pound with pain and love at exactly the same time.”
After Persephone’s death, Sylvie continued to paint and became a tattoo artist. She liked the chemical smell of paint, it reminded her of bruises. Tattooing over someone’s skin felt like covering up past mistakes. Although she knew, no matter if you cover it, you still know what is underneath.
The whole time I read, Sylvie’s journey, I felt like I was inside her mind. Collins allows you to feel her emotions and grow with her as she struggles through the tragedy of losing a loved one and the secrets she holds.
The Broken Relationship
Right away we are told that Sylvie and her mother, Annie have had a rocky relationship even before Persephone’s death. After her body is found the relationship plunders when Annie retreats to her room and every day becomes a ‘dark day’ full of grief and booze; leaving Sylvie abandoned and left alone to grieve. This is where her guilt is able to bubble and boil over.
Collins uses the constellations and stars as a way to show how their relationship deteriorates. We are first shown the relationship of a young Sylvie and Annie. Their bond is strong and full of hope. The only thing that stopped that was Annie’s ‘dark days’, where she would go off and not be bothered with anything in the world, not even her own daughters.
” ‘My love for you Sylvie, is exactly like those stars. It’s as eternal as each and everyone of them. It goes on and on and on.’ — … I didn’t know that stars don’t last forever.”
Collins shows us the realizations of growing up. That everything isn’t always as it seems. Sometime what we are seeing in a person is just the reflection of a past glow. That sometimes, the thing we want most has been dead for a while but we just continued to see what we want.
It was emotional reading Sylvie’s inner battles with herself, the loss and guilt that came after losing her sister. Collin’s gives us the guilty continence of someone who is experiencing the personal blame, I could’ve done something different which would make that person still alive. Every step of the way you can feel the tension behind Sylvie’s thoughts. I squirmed reading the events that lead her to believe she was the reason her sister was dead. Her and the secrets she still holds years later.
The Winter Sister is a wonderful portrayal of how something can eat away at you. That guilt can bring on a new side of concealment. It shows the growth a person has to take in order to see that in the end we can’t control someone else’s destiny, that they make their own choices that lead them to where they lay.
“I pictured myself confessing that Mom was only half of what haunted me in Spring Hill, that I did remember my sister and it was the remembering that, all these years later, kept me awake some nights.”
Megan Collins created a roller coaster of emotions with The Winter Sister. Her writing made this secret filled thriller a page turner that you wont want to put down. Through finding connections in a sister’s bond to the fallen relationship, rebuilt off of memories. After reading you find yourself wondering if you really know the people you love.
For more on The Winter Sister, check out my Q&A and discussion page about the book: The Winter Sister Q&A page.
The Winter Sister by Megan Collins