Summary: On parallel journeys of sorts, Beatrice and Cass live in different time periods but are both facing the reorganization of their families after the deaths of their mothers. Connected by a star brooch and a shared home, the lives of Cass and Berenice intersect, allowing them to help each other through their challenges and grief. For Cass, their friendship helps her face her new stepmother and stand up for her needs in the aftermath of the loss of her mother, but for Beatrice, Cass’s insight helps her get out of a bad match to marry the man she is supposed to be with. Along the way, both must face their demons and find the strength to shine the light on the shadows in their lives.
Number of Pages: 322
Age Range: 14-16
Review: When Cass’s father remarries Jean less than a year after the death of Cass’s mother, both Cass and her Aunt Blair are understandably upset. Suddenly Cass is sharing a room with Jean’s 12 year-old daughter and feeling like her mother is being pushed out of their home at all costs. Cass and Jean keep clashing, while Cass’s father seems to stand by and observe instead of stepping in and taking action. The star brooch Cass finds in the fireplace transports her to Beatrice’s time, providing Cass with a friend who understands what she is going through even though they live in different times.
A satisfying read featuring lovely prose and emotionally-charged characters, Margaret Buffie’s Winter Shadows had me equally enthralled by both Cass and Beatrice’s stories. When the chapters ended and the perspectives changed, I was frustrated because I wanted to keep reading about the same character I had been reading about, but Buffie’s writing was balanced and I never resented the time spent with one character over another because they were both compelling.
I love the idea behind it, being able to connect with your ancestors in moments of trouble, and how her experiences eventually lead Cass to realize death isn’t always a barrier to contact with loved ones. What I also love about Buffie’s writing is that while at first certain characters seem either good or evil, she endeavours to bring out the complexity behind each situation and helps her reader have empathy for everyone involved. Buffie has a particular talent for writing realistic scenes of anger, miscommunication and frustration.
The ending isn’t neat for Cass, but I liked it better that way because Buffie is acknowledging Cass’s life has irreversibly changed after her mother’s death. Maybe in time she and Jean will learn to tolerate each other, although any work on their relationship needs to include Cass’s dad because Cass’s hurt involves him too. Until then, at least her Aunt Blair is there to support her and they can help each other through their grief.
It’s a powerful, well-written story about two young woman finding their places amidst challenging circumstances, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“Everything inside me changed during my stay at that faraway school. Even my faith. Now, after only a few weeks of teaching, my once-steadfast beliefs in the missionary and its so-called good work throughout the parish are being tested. Perhaps Dickens’s books and those of the Brontës have awakened something in me, for I’ve become convinced that the church’s purpose here is not just to preach the word of God to us ‘half-breed savages.’ It’s to break the tie between the English mixed bloods and their Indian families; to make the Company servants into English farmers and citizens; and to turn the young daughters of Company officers – who will run the homes of the men their fathers choose for them – into perfect little English ladies.” – Beatrice from Winter Shadows by Margaret Buffie, pages 42-43
“Then she took my arm and whispered, ‘Don’t be afraid. There’s a reason for everything. You’ll figure it out. I’m sorry if I sound like some kind of phony wisewoman, but it’s truly what I believe. I’ve lived a long life, Cass. I’ve seen many things that don’t make sense, and then something happens and it all fits together.’ She laughed.” – Betty from Winter Shadows by Margaret Buffie, pages 172-173
“‘Sometimes, at school, I heard kids talking about their makeup or their hot weekends, or griping about their parents, or crying over some guy or girl, all stupid superficial stuff. I just wanted to shout at them, “Don’t you get it? We’re all going to die! Who cares about any of this crap! What’s the point of anything?”‘” – Cass from Winter Shadows by Margaret Buffie, page 198
“‘Cass, have you ever thought that maybe you have been closing yourself off from Fiona? To punish yourself somehow? If you open yourself up to your mom, I know she’ll come. I wish you’d told me this two years ago. No wonder you fight so hard for her around Jean. Guilt is a terrible responsibility. Especially when you did absolutely nothing wrong.'” – Aunt Blair from Winter Shadows by Margaret Buffie, page 286